The nominations are in and four companies are finalists for the Central Florida Development Council’s George W. Harris, Jr. Economic Development Award for Success in Large Business.

The award, given to companies with at least 100 employees, was named after George W. Harris, Jr., a former CFDC chairman and president of Citrus and Chemical Bank. It is one of two awards, the other going to a business with fewer than 100 employees, that the CFDC will announce at its Annual Meeting on October 15.

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

“The nominees for these awards represent great companies who call Polk County home, those who are leaders in their own industry as well as in the community,” said CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott. “They understand and support economic development and free enterprise, as well as giving back to their communities.”

Last year’s winner was Draken International. This year’s nominees are Duke Energy, E.R. Jahna Industries, Southeastern University and Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits.

Read about the four finalists below, listed in alphabetical order.

Duke Energy

Duke Energy Florida serves about 100,000 customers in Polk County and operates the Hines Energy Complex in Bartow, whose four gas-fired units started operating in 1999 and produce 1,847 megawatts.

At 120 years old, Duke Energy is one of the largest electric power holding companies in the United States, providing electricity to 7.7 million retail customers in six states, according to its website. It has been actively involved in economic recruitment, helping study and prepare sites for businesses through its Site Readiness Program, which drives new capital investment, jobs and an increased tax base. In Polk County, two sites have been developed as part of the program, the Haines City Industrial Park and the Pebble Ridge Industrial Park.

Duke Energy Florida is a subsidiary of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), which serves more than 1.8 million customers in 35 counties. It is improving the energy grid in Florida, investing nearly $200 million in Polk County that will have a 10-year impact of about 375 jobs.

“It is such an honor to be nominated as a finalist in the CFDC’s George W. Harris, Jr. Economic Development Success in Large Business award,” said Marc Hoenstine, director of economic development for Duke Energy Florida. “Duke Energy exists to power our customers’ lives through safe, reliable and sustainable electricity, but also by partnering with the community to create new job opportunities that support a vibrant and diverse economy. Our impact on the Polk County economy may be measured in many ways (as a power provider, an employer, an investor, a developer, fostering the growth of our customers and recruiting new business), but none of it is possible without the local community support and the successful business environment Polk County has created. We are very pleased to be considered for this award.”

In 2020, Duke Energy was named to Fortune magazine’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, ranking fifth among gas and electric utilities, and was selected as one of Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity.

Its foundation donates several million dollars a year to nonprofit organizations that align with its four areas of focus: the environment, economic development, education and community vitality. Duke’s employees also believe in giving back by donating their time and skills, about 20,000 hours a year.

E.R. Jahna Industries

Emil Jahna Jr. built on his family’s history of mining sand, starting in the 1900s, and developed his own company, E.R. Jahna Industries, in the 1940s. The independently operated company has now been supplying construction aggregate materials to Florida for nearly 80 years.

Sand mined by the company is used for everything from beach renourishment and golf courses to concrete products and manufacturing.

E.R. Jahna operates five mines to supply sand to Central and South Florida, and its mine in Savannah, Georgia.

The company is proud of its history and its part in helping communities. Its website says; “We recognize that the products we supply help build the communities and infrastructure that we work and live, our employees’ livelihood are reliant on the success of Jahna, and we can work co-dependently with the neighborhoods and environment around us so that we can make a positive impression with the resources we have been entrusted.”

Southeastern University

Southeastern University teaches between 2,500 and 3,000 students on its Lakeland campus. Its total enrollment is nearing 10,000, including those taking classes online or at any of its 175 extension campuses across the country. The Chronicle of Higher Education has recognized the 85-year-old university as one of the top 10 fastest-growing private nonprofit master’s institutions in the country.

Its 175 faculty members teach everything from business, music and the arts to English, theology and criminal justice — offering more than 80 degrees. In Fall 2020, SEU introduced three new programs — a Bachelor of Arts in language, culture and trade and master’s degrees in design management and classical studies.

“It is such an honor to be nominated for the George W. Harris, Jr. Economic Development Success in Large Business award,” said President Kent Ingle. “This recognition from our fellow community members means a great deal to us. We are grateful to be able to contribute to the city and people of Lakeland, who have all been so supportive of our mission here at Southeastern University.”

In the last few years, the Christian university has built:

  • The 27,000-square-foot Welcome Center, which opened in 2020 and houses administrative, enrollment and advancement offices, giving students one place to visit for all their essential needs. Dedication will be held Nov. 4.
  • A 27,000-square-foot College of Natural & Health Sciences building, complete with labs, nursing simulation rooms and an auditorium.
  • The 125,000-square-foot, four-story Buena Vida buildings, which include classrooms, rehearsal halls, equipment storage, a food court and new dorm rooms. The College of Arts & Media, the College of Behavior and Social Sciences, and the Jannetides College of Business & Entrepreneurial Leadership found new homes there.

The university works with local organizations to prepare students for jobs that are in demand, like nursing. It also prepares its students to be servant leaders; students donate about 100,000 community service hours to Central Florida organizations each year.

Southern Glazer’s Wine And Spirits

Founded in 1968, Southern Wine & Spirits was the single largest distributor of wine, spirits, beer and non-alcoholic beverages in the United States before it merged with Glazer’s, which was founded in the early 1900s. The combined company now distributes in 44 states, Washington, D. C., Canada and the Caribbean.

More than 400 people work at the company’s distribution center on Old Tampa Highway in Lakeland. One of the tallest and largest distribution centers in Polk County, it ships more than 20 million cases a year.

“Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is deeply rooted in the Central Florida community,” said Jason Witty, vice president of operations for the Southeast region. “In particular, our Lakeland distribution center is the largest wine and spirits hub on the planet, with approximately 1.2 million square feet of warehouse space dedicated to serving our valued customers in the state. Our dedicated people in Central Florida, from our sales teams and functional support staff to our incredible drivers and warehouse personnel, are as passionate about delivering for our customers and suppliers as they are for giving back in our community.

“It’s an honor to be a finalist for an award that recognizes the positive impact organizations like Southern Glazer’s make on our important local economy.”

The company urges all customers to drink responsibly but is particularly involved in a high school alcohol safety education program. Since implementing the AlcoholEdu® for High School alcohol safety education course, Southern Glazer’s Youth Alcohol Awareness and Education Foundation has introduced the program to more than 10,000 students in Florida and Texas. It is renewing the program in those states and adding schools in six counties in New York.