More People + More Companies Locating & Expanding in Polk = Economic Prosperity
With the 2023 Economic Development Week from May 8-12, the Central Florida Development Council (CFDC) has a chance to reflect on the state of economic development in Polk County and what lies ahead.
The CFDC serves as Polk County’s economic development agency, working with its counterparts in our cities to attract new business to the area and to support local companies that want to expand. In the last few years, it has played a part in attracting companies like Nucor Steel and, most recently, LowCarbon Corp., while assisting businesses like Coca-Cola with its plan to expand.
Many look favorably on Polk as a county to do business for many reasons, including:
- An inviting business climate with government and business leaders who collaborate for the betterment of the area.
- Low taxes – and no state income tax — with an abundance of available land.
- A population that has increased from 602,000 in the 2010 Census to an estimated 787,404 now, providing much-needed employees.
- A talent pipeline supported by seven institutions of higher education.
- Its location in the center of the state, with access to millions of people by road, rail, airport or seaport.
The CFDC’s President & CEO, Sean Malott, and its chair of the board, Maggie Mariucci, answered some questions to provide more insight into economic development today.
Question: How would you assess the state of economic development in Polk County?
Malott: There is more economic development happening in Polk County today than there ever has been – a tremendous amount. The number of people and businesses wanting to be in the market is staggering. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. The complication comes from the supply chain for goods and services, for manufacturing equipment, for contractors to do the work — the cost of doing business is more than what it has been in the past. It’s still a relatively better cost than other parts of Florida, but because we have so much demand it is pushing the cost environment higher. It’s not better or worse, just more complicated because there is so much activity taking place within our market.
Question: Where is all this interest coming from?
Malott: We receive leads from people in real estate, site selectors reaching out to us directly, our state economic development partner (Enterprise Florida). They are all seeking locations for businesses to be successful. Oftentimes we are on the front line, one of their first calls. As we gather information, we share that with our real estate and economic development partners.
Question: What two or three things would help improve economic development in Polk?
Malott: Advancing our water, road and alternative transportation infrastructure is critical. We need enhanced road networks, commuter and high-speed rail in place to be able to bring in the employees for the changing landscape of Polk County. Advanced manufacturing is a true opportunity for our area, and having the infrastructure in place for that segment is a major priority. Continuing to see Florida Polytechnic University on its success track to provide the high-tech, high-skill labor needed to support that growth is key to the future of our market.
Question: How does population growth in Polk play into economic development?
Malott: More people means more employees who are available to work. Companies are looking for more talent. People are moving here every day because of those opportunities. There’s an advantage to having more people here to bloster our existing workforce.
Question: What type of industry/business is needed in Polk and why? What would you do to attract that industry?
Mariucci: Ranked several years ago as the most diversified county in the state, transitioning from being previously known for phosphate and citrus, our community has worked diligently to attract a variety of industries to the area, including logistics, advanced manufacturing, aviation and health sciences. Building upon that is now one of our strategic goals to increase attracting more tech-enabled businesses within Polk. Companies like Nucor Steel and Florida Can Manufacturing have already located here. Having higher-skill, higher-wage jobs like these helps raise the average annual wage in Polk County while continuing to move the county forward economically.
Question: What has the CFDC done in the past year that you are most proud of?
Mariucci: During the last several months, renewed collaboration and engagement has grown around the Central Florida Innovation District, which includes Florida Poly and Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s SunTrax testing and verification facility. Polk County has had a vision to dedicate this land to a research triangle-type district, which takes all jurisdictions working together patiently and communicating effectively to achieve a lofty goal. Nothing exceptional comes from reasonable expectations, and we are visioning something exceptional.”
Question: What can the county and cities do to improve economic development here?
Malott: Communicate. Planning staff from various cities and the county can communicate and share plans. The more cities and the county can stay in lockstep, the better it will be.
Question: How has the CFDC helped facilitate positive growth in the county?
Mariucci: The CFDC continues to promote Polk County on a national stage on behalf of all our 17 municipalities. Their role of casting a broad net to continue marketing and branding Polk as Florida’s Best Place for Business furthers our opportunities to compete for the next big project. The CFDC also works to help local companies expand, researching appropriate markets, finding space and networking to locate necessary talent.”