Originally Published in Polk FWD Magazine

Nonprofit organizations play a significant role in our community, everything from the United Way and Volunteers in Service to the Elderly to economic development and visioning agencies.

We all know Polk County is a charitable community. Numbers back that up. In 2017, 43,000 Polk Countians donated just shy of $350 million, according to the Florida Nonprofit Alliance (FNA).

The United Way of Central Florida consistently raises more than $10 million a year, and for 2020-2021 it has pledges of $23.8 million. Publix Charities, the charitable foundation of Publix Super Markets, routinely donates millions of dollars to organizations that support food insecurity, homelessness, and children’s programs, as well as to disaster relief funds.

Such donations make positive impacts in our community. But thinking more broadly, so do organizations that work to spur economic development and focus on things like education and health.

The Central Florida Development Council, designated as Polk County’s economic development agency, works with its partners to build a prosperous future with high-skill, high-wage sustainable employment opportunities. We are proud to collaborate with other economic development councils in Polk County — some of which are nonprofits — to attract new business and industry to our area.

Those businesses not only diversify our economy, which helps during everything from a recession to a pandemic. They also:

  • Provide jobs for residents.
  • Increase our tax base to fund police, fire, recreation, infrastructure, and other projects.
  • Enhance Polk’s quality of life.
  • Give back to the community by offering internships for students, providing sponsorships for events, and so much more. And many of their employees volunteer for various organizations.

We also work with Polk Vision, a community-led partnership of organizations, businesses, government and individuals acting to ensure Polk County’s community vision is implemented.

Polk Vision has taken a leadership role on projects that are vital to the community. Those include:

  • Working with the CFDC’s Talent Pipeline’s Countywide Higher Education Workforce to produce a new Internship Guide to assist businesses wanting to start or advance a program to attract young talent to their companies.
  • Developing Be the Future Be U, which focuses on improving educational attainment and workforce readiness. To spread the word, Polk Vision collaborated with businesses, the Polk County School Board, government officials and students. It also has worked with the school system’s career academies to provide training to middle school counselors.
  • Following up on the 2020 Community Health Assessment (CHA), which found mental health resources lacking in the county. Polk Vision’s Behavioral Health Team has identified the need for a comprehensive behavioral health strategic plan for mental health and substance abuse services and is working to provide that.

As economic development councils, Chambers and others work together, we attract new businesses and help others expand, supported by the work other nonprofits tackle to ensure our residents are safe, fed and empowered. They go hand-in-hand to help Polk County remain Florida’s Best Place for Business. Together, we work to move POLK FWD.