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Polk County, Florida’s Best Place for Business

March 11, 2024 News

As Polk County continues to grow, the Central Florida Development Council continues its mission to attract new companies and retain ones already here, and it’s sharing its progress and successes with a new business development model that incorporates lead development through various stages. 

Recent new to Polk Companies include:  

  • Advanced Drainage Systems (ADS), bringing 200 new jobs with average salaries of $55,500 to Lake Wales, along with a $250 million capital expenditure. 
  • RealCOLD, bringing 94 new jobs with average wages of $57,500 to Auburndale with a $66 million capital expenditure. 

Projects and leads in 2024 continue to be indicative of Polk’s competitive manufacturing sector, said CFDC Senior Vice President and COO Lindsay Zimmerman. “Manufacturing continues to be a strong sector for Polk County. The capital investment this sector brings to the community is not easily moved, meaning long-term corporate partners. In addition, industrial companies are minimal users of services and due to their significant contribution to the tax rolls they assist in the provision of services.” 

And, in line with the CFDC’s strategic initiatives, the new jobs are technology related. The CFDC’s tech-enabled project activity represents 53% of the new jobs within active and won projects as well as 82% of the capital investment.  

As Polk County’s designated economic development agency, the CFDC strives to attract new business to the area and to support local companies that want to expand. 

In the 2022-2023 fiscal year, Polk County secured: 

  • 483 new and retained jobs with average wages of more than $60,000 a year. 
  • Capital investments of $429 million (setting a new annual record investment) 

Companies who invested in the county include Publix and Coca Cola, which expanded, and newcomers LowCarbon and Kottke Trucking. 

Polk’s Business Climate

Zimmerman and CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott appreciate the willingness of the county’s elected leaders to be business friendly and to invest in improving the county’s infrastructure.  

“Their attitude toward business sets the table for companies to be successful in the county and the cities,” Zimmerman said. 

The Innovation District 

The Central Florida Innovation District anchored by Florida Polytechnic University, SunTrax and a future research park continues to develop roots and further diversify the local industry portfolio. Through this effort, the focus for high skill and high wage employment is Advanced Manufacturing, Mobility Innovations, and Life Sciences and Technology Integration. In addition to the continued construction on the Florida Poly campus, it is now possible for employers to locate within the district near the university. New mixed-use developments have been approved for Intersect Development, Lincoln Property Company and McCraney Property Company. “We foresee a not-too-distant-future where the hub for high tech employment will be in Polk,” stated Sean Malott. 

Talent Pipeline

Polk County ranked No. 9 overall in Lightcast’s annual Talent Attraction Scorecard, coming in No. 4 in migration, No. 21 in job growth, No. 50 in skilled job growth and No. 72 in education attainment. Along with job growth is population growth – Polk has grown from 725,000 in 2020 to an estimated 797,616 in 2023. About 75 people a day move here. 

“That volume of people moving to Polk County allows for our continued success in terms of available labor force,” Zimmerman said. “Labor is one of the leading factors companies are looking at when they decide where to move. Our population – and its growth — will continue to drive our diversification of industry.” 

The county’s seven institutions of higher education work closely with business and industry to ensure the courses and degrees they offer remain relevant. For instance, in 2023:  

  • Polk State College started offering an associate degree in hospitality & Tourism Management that addresses the needs of Polk County, the region and the state.  
  • Webber University opened its new Health Sciences Center, home to its Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Nursing and B.S. in Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) programs, giving students access to cutting-edge learning facilities and equipment. Webber is looking to graduate quality healthcare professionals who can fill the growing.  

Polk’s Future Outlook

Distribution and logistics are still growing segments of the Polk County economy, Zimmerman said. But the CFDC is seeing a pivot in that.  

“Cold storage seems to be the new opportunity,” she said. “What’s unique about that is they are high-energy users, which is helpful to our municipalities running their own energy co-ops. They also have a larger capital investment within their buildings than typical distribution users.”  

Future insights: 

  • We are seeing a higher interest from international companies. It will be interesting to watch how that plays out.  
  • The rate at which decisions are being made seems to have picked up a bit. In the last couple of years, companies have come in, shown interest and moved on without making a decision. Hopefully we will see a shift in that, which will be good.” 

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