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CFDC Honors Small, Large Businesses with its Annual Awards, Recaps the Last Year

September 29, 2023 News

Bank of Central Florida and Gulf Coast Avionics have been setting themselves apart for years, and now they have been honored with the Central Florida Development Council’s annual success in business awards. 

In addition, Lakeland City Commissioner Stephanie Madden received the 2023 Chair’s Award at the CFDC’s annual banquet, held Sept. 28 at Haus 820 in Lakeland. 

George Harris Award

Bank of Central Florida won the George W. Harris Jr. Economic Development Award for Success in Large Business, which is given to companies with at least 100 employees. The award is named for George Harris, a former CFDC chairman and president of Citrus and Chemical Bank.

Paul Noris started Bank of Central Florida 16 years ago. Now, it is crossing the 100-employee threshold and has $1.03 billion in assets. This is all while continuing to focus on its customers and the business community as a whole. 

In its first 15 years, the bank has opened six offices; developed “Vision 2025,” which outlines its path for the future; stayed true to its mission to support small businesses and small-business owners; rolled out new features for business-related banking; created educational materials centered on fraud prevention; and more. 

The other finalists were Amazon Air, Southeastern University and Lakeland Regional Health. Last year, Tucker Paving won the award. 

Jim Brantley Award

Gulf Coast Avionics won the Jim Brantley Economic Development Award – Success in Small Business. The award is named after Brantley, the first director of the agency now known as the CFDC. It is given to a business, institution or organization with fewer than 100 employees that champions growth, free enterprise, economic stability and community service. 

Rick Garcia, owner of Gulf Coast Avionics, said he was surprised and humbled to win the award. 

“It’s a tremendous honor to be considered the small business of the year. There is a lot of competition. To be thought of among so many others and to be picked, is an honor,” Garcia said. “I want to recognize our team. They’ve done a great job, and that has allowed us to get this award.” 

Garcia offered advice to other small business owners and those thinking about starting their own company. “Get as involved as you can. I know you have a time commitment with your business, but serve the community and you will reap the rewards of success. Just invest a lot of time and give back.” 

Garcia serves on the CFDC’s board of directors and is chair of its Aviation Committee. He missed the meeting to attend a 10-year celebration of a satellite office in Bogota, Colombia. He also has an office in Portland, Oregon. 

In 1984, he started Gulf Coast Avionics to sell, install and repair aircraft electronics. Now, nearly 40 years later, he has 57 employees and is going strong.  

The other finalists were Center State Development, Chastain-Skillman Inc. and RLK Development. Last year, SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate won the award. 

“Both companies showcase pride in Polk County through their support of economic development and their commitment to the community,” said CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott. “We are thrilled to announce them as the winners and honor the other six finalists. All are representative of the many successful companies that call Polk County home.” 

The Year in Review

During the meeting, Malott updated the audience on the past year. 

“As we continue to lead the state and the nation in growth, attracting and retaining quality jobs for Polk citizens remains a critical building block for increasing economic prosperity,” he said. “The presence of high-skill, high-wage opportunities grew in Polk County this past year as the county welcomed a variety of industries from manufacturing and aviation to the New Energy Sector and Hydrogen Production, totaling nearly $400 million in capital investment. The county also saw a 13% increase in new businesses to the area. The CFDC is committed to promoting Polk as Florida’s best place for business.”   

Maggie Mariucci, outgoing chair of the CFDC board and assistant vice president of University Relations at Florida Polytechnic University, discussed “the project” she’s been working on since joining Florida Poly.  

Mariucci shared about the collective partnership that continues to be showcased through the Central Florida Innovation District (CFID) She said. “The game-changer here, without question, is the partnership with the Williams Company.  Their commitment to the Innovation District and to being at the table for these discussions and planning has been transformational in our efforts to ensure high-tech development throughout the area surrounding Florida Poly.” 

Malott said Mariucci was the perfect person to lead the CFDC board during the past year. “Maggie’s knowledge, commitment and passion for economic development are second to none. She excelled in her role. We are thrilled she will continue to be part of the leadership team for years to come.” 


Chair’s Award

The CFDC’s board chair awards one honoree whose work is improving Polk County’s economic prosperity. The honoree is presented with one of the agency’s most prestigious awards. This year, Mariucci presented it to Commissioner Stephanie Madden.

“You’ve heard me talk tonight about our efforts to create the Innovation District five years ago and the subsequent efforts of so many to keep it moving forward. Stephanie was an early adopter of the CFID concept and a staunch advocate for the vision,” Mariucci said. “She is one of the strongest proponents for the research park, for innovation, for progress, for clean energy solutions, for partnerships and collaboration as a whole, and basically for making tomorrow a better place for all of us here in Polk County.  She continues to leverage her role as an elected official to advance the initiatives she believes in, and her passion for her work, her dedication to our economic growth and her commitment to making a vision come to life is unwavering.”  

Mariucci called Madden “a leader who embodies innovative thinking, challenges the status quo, is a convener of creative minds, and a believer in big visions,” 

Guest Speaker

Seth Blackwell, representing the Williams Company, was the keynote speaker. A certified professional landman with extensive knowledge and experience in all facets of land development, he is part of the Corporate Strategic Development team for the Williams Companies (NYSE: WMB), where he focuses on project origination within the New Energy Ventures business unit.  

Prior to joining the Williams Company, Blackwell added more than $500 million in asset value as Executive Vice President of Land & Business Development for Lilis Energy & Ruckus Energy. He also worked for Occidental Petroleum, where he gained exposure to multiple oil and gas basins throughout the U.S.   

“Hearing about the high-impact opportunities available through new energy projects, especially those grounded in innovation, is exciting for all of us,” Mariucci said.  

Malott thanks Blackwell for speaking to attendees. “We appreciate Seth and his willingness to spend time talking about the possibilities that exist right here in Polk County.” 

The Changing of the Guard

Mariucci turned the chair over to Gene Conrad, who praised her for her work during her term. 

“Maggie has been the right leader for the CFDC at the right time,” Conrad said. “She has helped re-energize opportunities available within the Innovation District, and we have been fortunate to have her leadership. She is well known throughout the county and is committed to building Polk’s economic prosperity.” 

He also discussed the county’s biggest challenge before outlining his goals for the upcoming year.  

“As a county, we need to remain committed to making our infrastructure a priority, especially transportation,” Conrad said. “We are uniquely well-positioned to attract large, high-skill, higher-wage opportunities, but to remain competitive, we have to commit and continue to invest in our infrastructure.  

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