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Quality of Life a Big Factor Making Polk County a Hotspot

July 8, 2024 News

It’s hard to keep Polk County a secret when the quality of life here stands head and shoulders above many other places.

But what does quality of life mean? It’s everything from income and jobs, housing, health, education and public safety to civic engagement, mobility, culture and leisure, and beyond. In other words, it’s where you eat, where you take your dogs to play, the number and type of jobs available, whether you feel safe, how good the schools are and more. 

“You want to create a sense of place, not only for people living within the community today but for future generations,” said Sean Malott, President & CEO of the Central Florida Development Council. “We are growing and expanding, we’re a place that’s vibrant, a place people want to be. I’d like to think we worked hard as a community to get to this place where we actually have people knocking at our door wanting to be here rather than pulling them in kicking and screaming.” 

Spaces like Bonnet Springs Park, countless dog parks, bike trails and new playgrounds factor into Polk quality of life.

Virtual Map of Bonnet Springs Park in Lakeland, FL

Variety of Opportunities

Although consistent growth has posed challenges for Polk County, it also has opened many opportunities, he said. “Think about our kids: Would you like for them to think about Polk County as a place they want to come back to? Do you want them to say: This is where we want to be.” 

Polk County has billed itself as a family-friendly community with a low cost of living, no state income tax, available housing, a solid job market with a talent pipeline supported by seven institutions of higher education, quality education and health care and, of course, good weather. 

Mark Jackson, director of Tourism & Sports for Visit Central Florida, said from a tourism/sports industry perspective, “the components of a great destination and visitor experience are very similar to the components of a great place to operate and/or relocate a business. Any location that cooperatively develops a great place to live, work, and play will be successful. It’s a testament to the partnership we have with the CFDC.” 

Enhancing Offerings

Polk County has done much to enhance what it offers residents and visitors alike. 

“We have invested heavily in supply side projects like the Advent Health Fieldhouse, the Lake Myrtle Sports Business Cluster, LEGOLAND, Tigertown, RP Funding Center and many more,” Jackson said. “The combination of world-class sports and entertainment infrastructure benefits local citizens and businesses, as well as serving as a powerful economic engine for the county.” 

For instance, people who rent hotels pay what is commonly called the “bed tax,” money that the County Commission has directed the Tourist Development Council to oversee. They use the money to market the county as a tourist destination, thus bringing in more people – and their money. 

But, having world-class facilities and attractions doesn’t guarantee success, Jackson said. “Dozens of facilities have been built and have either closed their doors or lay dormant. ‘Field of Dreams’ is not a business philosophy, it’s a movie. Tangible results and quality destinations require a combination of cutting-edge marketing and great infrastructure.” 

To that end, Visit Central Florida’s core strategy revolves around building and sustaining relationships, including with the CFDC and local municipalities. “An example of this approach is the recent success in recruiting Avelo Airlines to Polk County in partnership with the city of Lakeland,” he said. “This project took more than two years but will pay significant dividends for both the tourism and general business sectors.”  

Quintessential Downtowns

Local communities throughout Polk County have invested heavily to enhance their downtowns, placemaking for young professionals, growing families and local residents. Projects to increase outdoor dining options, add street scaping, foster walkability and recruit more business downtown. Downtown farmers markets are now the buzz in several cities and there is a growing number of special events now featured in downtown settings.

Quality of Life and Economic Development 

“The private sector has taken notice of what’s happening in Polk County,” Jackson said. “Here’s just one example: In the next two years we have more than 1,200 hotel rooms coming on-line. This is a testament to the effectiveness of our strategic approach, both short and long term. Capital investment and jobs are the end results.” 

After all, he said, “it’s all about positive economic impact, jobs and a higher quality of life for Polk County citizens and businesses.”  

The Future

James Farrell, associate professor of Finance and Economics at Florida Southern College and the CFDC’s economist, said it takes time to see and feel the positives of economic growth.

“If you’re moving to the area and you look at Tampa, Orlando and Polk County, all have attractive options and quality-of-life amenities, but Polk County beats them on cost of living.” 

He summed it up: “With growth comes opportunity, all the amenities and the quality of life that a sustainably built larger population brings with it. We just have to learn to embrace it.” 

Within our community enhanced offerings are now available as population creates higher demand. “We can go into stores we never had before. There’s a wider job market. There are opportunities for our kids to stay here or return here after college. This is an attractive place. Over time people will see that.” 

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