Just as warehousing is a critical to Polk County’s economy, so are distribution centers, which are popping up for major operations.

Distribution centers differ from warehouses, where, for the most part, companies store products. Distribution centers store products but also offer packaging, order fulfillment, distribution and other services.

There are many reasons why Polk County is Florida’s hub for distribution:

  • Easy access by road via Interstate 4 or, a little further south, State Road 60 and US Hwy 27 to/from Miami.
  • Access to shipping containers 45 minutes to the west at Port Tampa Bay, and rail at the Intermodal Logistics Center about 30 minutes southeast in Winter Haven.
  • Two major international airports in close proximity in Tampa and Orlando
  • Polk County works with leaders at Foreign Trade Zone 79, which serves the Tampa Bay market. “FTZ 79 assists companies in Tampa Bay and along the I-4 corridor to strengthen their international competitiveness in their respective industries by streamlining the process and minimizing the costs associated with qualified importing, exporting, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution activities,” said Javier Marin, director of Business Development and Global Trade for the Central Florida Development Council.
  • Access to most of Florida’s nearly 20 million people within a day, which is critical for delivery.
    “Demand for distribution space is driving millions of square feet of big-box industrial development along the Interstate 4 corridor in Polk County between Tampa Bay and Orlando,” said Dolores Seymour, executive managing director/Industrial Services for Colliers International’s Central Florida industrial team. “I-4’s central location provides both labor pool and concentrations of consumers with fast access to more than 14 million people.

“These are the exceptional market dynamics that have been and will continue to support big-box industrial speculative and build-to-suit activity in Polk County,” she said.

Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado said distribution centers like those operated by Amazon and O’Reilly Auto Parts offer good paying jobs with excellent benefits. “There’s no stigma associated with those jobs,” he said.

Recent, ongoing and projects in the works in Polk County, Florida include:

    • Randy Knapp and Ackerman & Co. purchased the former Lakeland Drag Strip at 8100 N. SR 33 for $3.3 million in August 2018 and plan to build a 700,000-square-foot logistics center there.
    • At 8355 SR 33, Xebec is building a nearly $40 million spec warehouse on a 60-acre site just north of I-4. The California-based real-estate firm plans to build a 533,000-square-foot spec logistics center.
    • Not far away, Prologis has plans to build a 1.1 million-square-foot facility in the city of Auburndale, which has already approved the project. A tenant has not yet been announced.
    • Griffin Capital Essential Asset REIT Inc. of Los Angeles purchased a 605,000-square-foot distribution center in the CenterState Logistics Center in Lakeland for $60 million. As part of the purchase, it acquired the lease with Quaker Sales and Distribution, which distributes Gatorade from the facility at Interstate 4 and State Road 33. Two others buildings are planned for the site. Brennan Investment Group, the site’s developer, “has begun construction on 440,000 square feet in building 3 with completion scheduled for Q1 2019,” said Seymour of Collier’s, which is the leasing agent for the property. “The team is currently working on inquiries from several manufacturing and distribution prospects about leasing building 3.”
    • In Lakeland, Ridge Development is planning on building up to 1.35 million square feet of distribution space on acreage that once was the BridgeWater golf course.
    • IKEA, whose closest stores are in Tampa and Orlando, plans to open a 326,000-square-foot distribution center in Lakeland in early 2019 to fill customer orders from those two sites, as well as other locations in the Southeast. The home furnishings retailer operates 48 stores and nine other distribution centers nationwide. The center, which will create about 160 new jobs, will be housed in leased space off Allen K. Breed Highway.
    • At the Polk Commerce Centre in Auburndale, Medline built an 830,000-square-foot distribution center, said Amy Palmer, the city’s community development director. On its website, Medline bills itself as “the nation’s largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies and clinical solutions.” In a press release, the company said it chose Auburndale “for its central location and accessibility to its area customers. Five hospitals are located in Polk County, along with a multitude of other medical care facilities.” It plans on employing about 100 people.
    • In the same center, SaddleCreek is building phases two of its distribution center in Auburndale now, adding 343,200 square feet to the recently completed Phase 1, built at 468,000 square feet, Palmer said.
    • Walmart opened a two-building e-commerce fulfillment center in Davenport in July 2017, the first in Florida. Built on 50 acres at U.S. 27 and I-4, the 2.2 million-square-foot center — about the size of 20 football fields — will employ about 1,500 people.
    • Amazon opened a fulfillment center at 1760 County Line Road in Lakeland in August 2014. The 1 million-square-foot center offers same-day service to Polk County and surrounding areas. Amazon also operates a sort facility in Davenport.

With a lot of vacant land left in Polk County, especially in key areas near the I-4 corridor, savvy investors are likely to continue to develop distribution centers and warehouses, whether on spec or building to suit.