One company provides electricity to a large swath of Polk County, while another helps keep our residents healthy. Two others produce steel and provide planning and design services. All four contribute to the economic success of Polk County, employing hundreds, paying taxes and giving back. 

On Sept. 30, the Central Florida Development Council will award one of those companies the George W. Harris Jr. Economic Development Award for Success in Large Business. The finalists are Central Florida Health Care, Duke Energy, Kimley-Horn and Nucor Steel. 

The award, given to companies with at least 100 employees, was named for George Harris, a former CFDC chairman and president of Citrus and Chemical Bank. Last year, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits won. This year’s winner will be announced at the CFDC’s annual banquet at Lake Eva Event Center in Haines City.

Businesses were nominated based on their community service, commitment to growth in business, economic stability and promotion of free enterprise. 

“We are so pleased that four companies that contribute so much to our community, beyond economic development, are finalists for this award,” said CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott. “Each represents the best in their industry, and we wish them all good luck.” 

Central Florida Health Care

The non-profit healthcare organization started in Frostproof in 1972, then expanded to Highlands and Hardee counties. Now, it operates 14 sites and is planning to open its 15th — a new community health center in Dundee — in the first quarter of 2022, said CEO Ann Claussen.

Central Florida Health Care (CFHC) also partners with BayCare/Winter Haven Hospital in its program to provide medical residencies to students in Florida State University’s College of Medicine. “Family medicine resident physicians are rotating through several of our clinics for their gynecology and pediatric experience,” Claussen said.

CFHC is also working with NYU Langone Dental Medicine to start a dental residency program in 2022.

Being nominated for the prestigious Harris Award is a great honor and shows CFHC is making a difference, Claussen said. “Central Florida Health Care has embraced the commitment to growing and expanding our services, and, without hesitation, stepped up to the significant COVID-19 challenges by providing COVID screenings, testing, education and vaccinations to over 100,000 patients and community members over the last 1 ½ years. 

In addition to health-care needs, CFHC volunteered to oversee 11 food distribution sites in Polk County, serving more than 200 families every other week, Claussen said.

CFHC also volunteered and disbursed $1 million to Polk County residents who had lost income during the pandemic, she said. “CFHC’s motto is ‘providing health with a heart,’ and we are committed to making a difference in our community every day.”

Claussen said she’s proud of the lives her organization touches daily. “Not only do we provide medical, dental and behavioral health care, we also provide health education, pharmacy services, nutritional services and case management services to so many people. We  truly care about our patients and the community that we serve.”

Duke Energy

Duke Energy and its predecessor companies have been providing energy in Florida since 1899. The company is now called Duke Energy Florida, a subsidiary of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), which serves more than 1.8 million customers in 35 counties. 

Marc Hoenstine, Duke’s director of economic development in Florida, is proud Duke is a finalist. “George W. Harris Jr. leveraged his talents and company for the betterment of businesses and individuals within the Polk community. Duke Energy is honored to be nominated for this award in his memory.” 

Duke Energy exists “to improve the lives of our customers and the vitality of the communities we serve,” he said. “This commitment is evident in our economic development program, where our mission is to help existing companies expand and recruit new industry that will result in new capital investment, jobs and increased tax base in the communities we serve. Since 2001, Duke Energy’s collaborative economic development efforts, in partnership with the CFDC and our community partners, have supported the creation of over 5,500 new jobs and the investment of over $1.24 billion in Polk County. We are also invested in Polk County as a local company with 345 employees across the county and an additional 310 Duke Energy alumni who live in Polk.”

For 15 years in a row, Duke has been named one of Site Selection magazine’s top Utility Companies in Economic Development. The company uses its Site Readiness program to identify, assess, improve and increase the awareness of sites in Florida and five other states to determine the infrastructure, natural gas, water, sewer and electric in place so a company can begin to build almost immediately. It works with the CFDC to find tracts, contact landowners and do research.

In Polk County, Duke serves about 100,000 customers. With one of the largest-generating facilities in the state sitting on 8,000 acres of formerly mined phosphate land, the Hines Energy Complex in Bartow uses four natural-gas-fired units to generate 1,847 megawatts. The first unit began commercial operation in 1999; the three others came online in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

The Tiger Bay Plant in Fort Meade is a cogeneration facility consisting of one combined-cycle combustion turbine and one heat recovery steam turbine generator with a total capacity of 270 megawatts, located on 6 acres leased from U.S. Agri-Chemicals Corp. It began commercial operations in July 1994 and was purchased by Florida Power Corp. in 1997. 

The Osprey Plant in Auburndale was purchased in January 2017 from Calpine Energy.  It has two gas turbines and one steam turbine with a total capacity of 520 megawatts.

Duke is committed to the communities it powers, Hoenstine said. “Duke Energy’s focus on creating Powerful Communities means powering the lives of our customers and the vitality of our communities, and we have done this in a variety of ways, but most notably through more than $4.5 million in charitable grants in Florida last year through community impact initiatives focused on K-12 education, nature, workforce and economic development.”

Duke Energy was named to Fortune’s 2018 “World’s Most Admired Companies” list and Forbes’ 2018 “America’s Best Employers” list. 

Kimley-Horn

One of the nation’s premier planning and design consulting firms, Kimley-Horn opened its Lakeland office in 2002, and now employs about 35 people there. Nationwide, more than 5,000 employees work in more than 100 offices for the company that was founded in 1967 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Principal Mark Wilson said being a finalist signifies the company, which served as civil engineers during the construction of the Streamsong resort, is doing something right. 

“We pride ourselves on providing excellent client service, and this is good feedback. People are taking notice,” he said. “It’s nice to be recognized. Sometimes you don’t need recognition, but deep down inside it makes you feel good for the hard work you do. It makes your team feel good. We have a good group of people who work hard and take pride in what they do.”

Kimley-Horn has provided services for many projects in Polk County, everything from e-commerce and distribution centers to residential and multifamily housing to public-sector construction. “Across the board, our work shows how much Polk County is growing,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of work to be done here.”

Being an employee-owned company is one of Kimley-Horn’s strengths, Wilson said. It routinely gives back to employees through profit-sharing and benefits, among other things. “We all get to feel the strength of ownership and what those benefits can bring.”

It urges its employees to give back to communities, whether it’s finding something fun they would like to become engaged in or volunteering at a local charity. Wilson served as president of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce in 2013, and he and others sit on various boards.

The company has been named one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for 14 years straight years. This year it was also named a “Top Place to Work for Women.” 

Nucor Steel

Nucor Steel Florida completed construction on its $240 million steel manufacturing plant just outside the city limits of Frostproof in January 2021. Now fully operational, it employs about 250 people. 

Nucor is now commissioning and hiring for an onsite rebar fabrication shop, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of October, said Controller Corey Allain.   

The No. 1  producer of steel in the country is honored to be a finalist for the George W. Harris Jr. Award, Allain said. “At Nucor, we strive to have a positive impact on the communities where we work and live. We received overwhelming support from the local community when we came to Frostproof, especially from the CFDC team and community partners. We look forward to working with our partners throughout the region to help make Central Florida a premier location to do business.”

In addition to being the nation’s largest steel producer, Nucor is also a leader in sustainability, Allain said. 

“Our steel is made from recycled scrap metal, which makes us the largest recycler in North America. But we aren’t stopping there. Nucor already has a carbon intensity less than one-third the world’s average, and we are committing to a 35% combined reduction in steel mill scope 1 and scope 2 GHG intensity by 2030. This goal will take Nucor’s steel mill CO2 emissions down to 77% less than today’s global steelmaking average.”