In his role as the Polk County Commission’s representative on the Executive Committee of the Central Florida Development Council (CFDC), Commissioner Todd Dantzler has the opportunity to speak with business leaders about the benefits of investing in the agency and its economic development work. It’s a pitch he took to his two partners in his own business, and it was a convincing one. Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Ralston Dantzler, LLC, a major Lakeland-based real estate firm, joined the CFDC as a financial investor in 2012, shortly after it was announced that the public-private organization would go private.

“We were one of the early investors,” says Gary Ralston, one of the two managing partners of Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Ralston Dantzler (CBCSRD). Dantzler also is a managing partner with the 5-year-old company and Dean Saunders is a partner. The three men, representing more than 70 years of collective expertise in commercial and land real estate, form the company’s executive leadership.

After learning from Dantzler about the CFDC’s reorganization, its plans to take Central Florida business development to a much higher level, and the need for investors to ensure the success of the privatization effort, Ralston says that he and his partners agreed to put their company on board. The partners want CBCSRD to be among the key players in countywide economic growth he says.

“Polk County is a good place,” Ralston says, but he quickly adds, “We need more jobs here, and we’re all over that.

“Startups and small businesses — that’s what changes things,” he says. “We’re a startup ourselves.”

CBC Saunders Ralston Dantzler brands itself as Polk County’s premier commercial real estate firm, offering “expert local market knowledge, a national presence, and a global network.” Services include real estate sales and brokerage, site selection, leasing and tenant representation, property management, property marketing, land and agricultural services, real estate counseling services, property acquisition, asset management, recapitalization, and development.

“Unique” is how Ralston describes the company and the partnership of real estate professionals.

“We are a unique blend of expertise that creates a unique ability to execute real estate strategies in this marketplace,” he says.

Each of the broker-partners has a long resumé in real estate sales, services and professional leadership, and each has earned CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) designation as a recognized expert in the commercial and investment real estate industry. Ralston has earned seven additional designations, making him the second most accredited commercial real estate professional in the nation.

Ralston is a recognized expert on retail and commercial properties. His consulting work includes handling Florida bank-owned properties for one of the nation’s largest special service agents for small commercial loans. He also serves as a principal of a retail build-to-suit development and investment company. He holds a master’s degree in real estate and construction management from the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the University of Denver. He is a senior instructor for the CCIM Institute and a member of the board of directors of the CCIM Institute and CCIM Technologies, Inc. As an adjunct professor, he has taught real estate at the University of Denver, Florida Southern College, and the University of Florida, and currently he’s the co-chairman of the Florida Southern College Real Estate Conference.

In addition to his partnership with CBCSRD, Saunders owns Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Real Estate and Saunders Land Management, both in Lakeland. He is an accredited land consultant (ALC), and a recognized authority in Florida land and conservation easements. Saunders was a member of the staff for former U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles and, later, Florida Gov. Chiles, and he served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1992 to 1996. A former Realtors Land Institute (RLI) Florida Realtor of the Year and the recipient of many other real estate-related awards and honors, Saunders currently serves on the advisory board of the Bergstrom Real Estate School at the University of Florida.

Dantzler is an authority on commercial properties and land use in the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro and surrounding areas. He specializes in commercial properties, investment properties, and commercial leasing.  Also a principle with Real Estate Central Group, LLC, a residential real estate brokerage in Winter Haven, Dantzler has been active in Polk County real estate for more than 33 years. He is a second-generation real estate leader, with his father having served as chairman of the Florida Real Estate Commission in the early 1980s. In 2000, Dantzler was elected president of the Florida Realtors, becoming the youngest president in the history of the organization, and in 2012 he was recognized as the Florida Realtor of the Year. Dantzler was first elected to the Polk County Commission in 2010 and was re-elected without opposition in 2014. He served as the commission chairman in 2014.

“Our focus is really on the users of commercial property,” Ralston says. “Our analytics are designed to determine the best users of that property. Our task is to put the right user in the right place. To the extent that we do that, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

In addition to the company’s human talent and expertise, Ralston says CBCSRD has proprietary sales and technology tools, comprehensive property inventories, a sophisticated mapping system, detailed market analysis, and proven real estate methodologies that help the professionals best align properties to prospective buyers and tenants.

“Most people in our business guess or wonder what’s going to happen,” Ralston says. “We have the information and analysis available to know what’s going to happen. We understand the ‘why.’ ”

Predicting the future of economic growth in Polk County is slightly less certain, but from his vantage points in county government, in real estate, and in the CFDC leadership, Dantzler thinks he has a pretty good idea what will be driving it.

“Companies with 5, 15 people in them,” he says.

“We can’t always hit a home run with a large company like an Amazon or a Publix, but we can keep growing the small business base. That’s where the jobs are going to come from.”

A small business entrepreneur for all of his private post-college working life, Dantzler says a desire to help the small business sector was one of reasons he volunteered in 2012 to be the County Commission’s liaison to the CFDC. His association with the CFDC goes back even further; he served on the agency’s board of directors just prior to his election to the County Commission in 2010.

“There was a certain direction I wanted to see the CFDC take, and I really had the energy for this,” he says. “I had already taken a special interest in the CFDC prior to the election.”

When Dantzler won election to the County Commission in the fall of 2010, when Florida and the rest of the nation were still reeling from the immediate effects of the “Great Recession,” Polk County’s unemployment rate was about 12 percent. In April 2015, the county’s jobless was a much-improved 5.7 percent, and credit for some of that improvement can be fairly attributed to the work of the CFDC and its investor partners.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s better economically than it has been,” Dantzler says. “We still have a ways to go.”