Have you ever wondered why Polk County and its cities come up on so many “best” lists, whether it’s the best place to retire, start a business, attend college or the like?

We asked six leaders in different fields why they love living and working in Polk, here’s what we found out.

Crown Jewels

“I believe Polk County is a great place to live because we have 17 cities that are crown jewels to choose from to live, work and play,” said Winter Haven City Manager Mike Herr.  “That is one reason why Polk County won the All-America City award in 2007. We are inclusive in our thoughts and deeds as well.”

“Polk County is a great place to live because we have plenty of entertainment, restaurants and shops to have a cosmopolitan flair, but with a small-town feel,” said Bonnie Parker, senior vice president of Citizens Bank & Trust. “Residents have the benefit of living in a smaller, friendlier community while having access to big-city services.

Location

“Polk County is a lucrative hub to Central Florida, offering quick connectivity to our neighbors in both Orlando and Tampa and other surrounding areas,” said Craig Collins, dean of the College of Arts & Media at Southeastern University.

Deric Feacher, City Manager of Haines City, said his city is the “desired destination for individuals wanting to call Central Florida home.”

“Polk County provides you with the opportunity to get a quality education, professional jobs, affordable housing and quality of life you can’t get in every community in the state,” he said. “Many individuals often leave the area and quickly realize there is no place like Polk County.”

Business

Lakeland city manager, Tony Delgado said Polk County has taken significant strides to be inviting to new, high-skilled businesses and aviation industry opportunities.

“Lakeland Linder International Airport has done extremely well in leveraging cooperative relationships with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation to entice private companies like Amazon and Draken International, and federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to build and house major facilities at the airport,” he said.

In addition, the county has done a stellar job attracting new high-skilled businesses to the area, Delgado said. Those companies, along with some existing ones, “continue to construct millions of square feet of manufacturing and logistics facilities throughout the entire county, raising the economic bar and enhancing each city’s and the county’s efforts to grow the quality-of-life amenities the population thrives for.”

Many cities also are trying to attract new entrepreneurs; Catapult in Lakeland, a business incubator, has launched such businesses as Born and Bread.

“Entrepreneurial mindset? Polk County is beckoning you,” Collins said.

As a businesswoman, Parker said she enjoys “the camaraderie and support of other business people in the community.  Not only do we work for our own success, but it seems people are willing to help others so they can be successful, as well — even when they may be competitors.”

Education

Angela Garcia Falconetti, president of Polk State College, said residents in Polk County “work together to achieve shared goals through strong partnerships.”

“Our community truly cares about its future and opportunities for our children,” Falconetti said. “This is most evident in our collective focus on strengthening the transition from education and training, to employment.”

Falconetti pointed to the LEGOLAND Florida Resort Polk State College Network, which connects Polk State College students with alumni who work at the resort. The goal of this partnership is to encourage students to complete their degrees and to celebrate the nearly six percent of the resort’s employees who have a connection to the college, Falconetti said.

Polk State also works with the Polk County School District on the Establishing Leaders in Teacher Education (ELITE) Program, which, Falconetti said, prepares high school students to become leaders in our local classrooms.

“Students earn their Associate in Arts degrees in high school, enroll in Polk State College’s Education baccalaureate degree programs, and upon successful completion, are guaranteed employment with the school district.”

Beyond Polk State, six other schools in the county — Southeastern, Florida Polytechnic, Warner, Webber International, Florida Southern and Keiser — offer students a chance to further their education without leaving home.

“Most of those schools are very creative in their course offerings, so non-traditional students, who may already be working in a full-time job, can simultaneously take college courses,” Parker said. “We also have schools that offer professional certifications, which is very valuable to local businesses and their employees.”

The Arts

Cities and Polk County support the arts, along with grants from various sources.

“Our arts offerings are exceptional, with award-winning community theaters, community bands, a professional wind ensemble and orchestra,” Parker said. “We have several art museums and dance companies, and our public arts high school is outstanding.”

From old structures like the Polk Theatre in Lakeland to new venues like Gram Parsons Derry Down, and facilities from the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland to the Phosphate Museum in Mulberry, Polk County offers its residents many opportunities to learn and enjoy.

“The arts energy is abundant in Polk County and comprises non-profits, educational institutions and other arts-related agencies,” said Collins, formerly the principal at Harrison School for the Arts. “Downtown development in our larger municipalities has certainly proven lucrative for both arts programming and entrepreneurial endeavors.” 

Parks and Recreation

“Parks such as Lake Kissimmee State Park, Circle B Bar Preserve and Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, just to name a few, provide closeness to nature and the unique wildlife that is abundant in Central Florida, while being minutes away from the urban epicenters of the county,” Collins said.

Delgado agreed, saying, “Polk County can tout great community offerings — including superb metropolitan areas married to rural areas — that allow us to get back to the true Florida of years past.”

He said Lakeland has made it a priority to develop outstanding parks and recreation facilities that many residents throughout the county use.

“From first-class and award-winning ball fields and playground to conservation areas such as Se7en Wetlands Park, there seems to be something for everyone’s outdoor recreation taste.”

Other cities, including Winter Haven and Auburndale, have also invested millions of dollars to develop or upgrade parks and rec facilities to serve Polk County residents.

“The robust sense of community permeates throughout the county on both a micro and macro level as cities often come alongside each other for human capital interests, healthcare, education, economic development, infrastructure and the arts,” Collins said.

For additional information about this topic or how to become a partner with the Central Florida Development Council, please contact Lindsay Zimmerman at lindsay@cfdc.org.