CFDC Focuses on Continued Business Growth, Diversification and High Tech In 2021
As the Central Florida Development Council looks forward to 2021 focused on a recovering economy, it also reflects on the accomplishments from a year dominated by the coronavirus.
“We foresee a future where the hub for high-tech employers may be in Polk County’s Central Florida Innovation District, capitalizing on the business-friendly location centrally positioned between two major markets with lifestyle and cost advantages for a local and remote workforce,” said CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott. “The advantages are becoming more apparent through the pandemic. There is heavy interest in the area, and we continue to field calls about the district.”
The CFDC is enthusiastic that Polk County voters approved County Referendum No. 1 which is the renewal of the Ad Valorem Tax Exemption (AVTE) program that’s essential to the county’s competitiveness and to support economic growth. To be eligible, a company must be a qualified target industry, create at least 10 new jobs, meet wage requirements and invest at least $5 million in building and equipment. The Board of County Commissioners must approve all projects.
“This incentive program is leveraged to attract new businesses to our community and help businesses grow,” Malott said. “The world is a competitive place with many wonderful locations, and the AVTE program helps us demonstrate we are a pro-business community.”
That program has been instrumental in helping the CFDC attract new businesses, such as
- Nucor Florida, a $240 million micro mill steel manufacturer bringing 250 jobs to Frostproof.
- Florida Can Manufacturing, a $123 million aluminum can manufacturer bringing 160 jobs to Winter Haven.
The CFDC has also helped local businesses expand:
- Peace River Citrus Products, a $96 million juice processing plant adding 175 jobs to Bartow.
- Publix headquarters expansion, a $50 million project adding 700 jobs.
- Amazon Prime, a $100 million air hub bringing 1,000 jobs to Lakeland.
- Amazon, a $70 million distribution center bringing 500 new jobs to Auburndale.
While the CFDC champions all local businesses, it — along with most people in Polk County — is proud of the legacy of Publix Super Markets. “People in the Southeast who are familiar with the brand are all big fans,” said Jennifer Taylor, vice president of business development. “I’ve never met a person who doesn’t adore Publix and the values for which it stands. They are Polk County’s largest private employer and have attracted other ancillary food and beverage companies to Polk County.”
The CFDC is building on the strengths of the county, said Taylor. Those include things like:
- The county’s location in the center of the state with convenient access to several forms of transportation — highways, ports, airports and rail. “People may not know where Polk County, Florida is – after all, there are 11 other Polk Counties in the United States,” Taylor said. “But, most people do know where Tampa and Orlando are. Letting them know that we are nestled in between those two major metropolitan areas turns on the lightbulb for them.”
- Its pro-business governing bodies.
- Its momentum despite the pandemic.
Designated the county’s economic development agency, the CFDC also understands Polk’s weaknesses, including:
- Other than flex/distribution space, available inventory for manufacturers who want an existing building is becoming more limited.
- Large water users may have challenges in certain areas of the county.
One of the CFDC’s strategic initiatives for this year is to expand the local ecosystem for technology employment, specifically health sciences, advanced manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, and aviation and aerospace. “We see great strength and opportunity for these industry sectors in the near future,” Malott said.
“Polk County is home to the state of Florida’s 12th public university – Florida Polytechnic University. It is the state’s only public polytechnic university that focuses solely on STEM education. These are the brightest of the brightest and they are able to get a phenomenal STEM education right here in Polk County,” which aids in the efforts to attract more high-tech companies here, he said.
Malott said the agency thinks the shift to a remote workforce brought on by the pandemic will help the Lakeland/Winter Haven MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area). “We think more companies and people will seek mid-market cities to locate because of the proximity to open space, parks and recreation, and smaller cities are perceived as less restrictive.”
Some high-tech companies find it easier to have a remote workforce, especially when compared to manufacturing plants, warehouses and distribution centers, all of which have a large presence in Polk County.
“Seventy-five percent of the CFDC’s projects are in the manufacturing sector,” Taylor said. “While we certainly work with a number of logistics, e-commerce and warehouse prospects, many of them come here organically. There are times when we don’t even hear about their presence in Polk County until they are almost here. We certainly are a hotspot, especially in the state of Florida, but there are many other hotspots throughout the U.S. too. Most of them congregate along the Interstate 4 corridor, but Polk County extends way beyond I-4, and the other projects we have going certainly keep us diversified and busy.”
The CFDC is using a variety of strategies to market Polk County, including advertising in trade publications, developing targeted marketing campaigns, participating in podcasts, building relationships with site selectors, partnering with Enterprise Florida and generating social media content.
Its message is simple: “We continue to work with companies who want to locate or expand in Polk County,” Taylor said. “Companies not only want but need, to be here to take advantage of market access to 10 million consumers within a 100-mile radius.”