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Seven Small Businesses are Finalists for the CFDC’S Brantley Award

October 10, 2022 News

From banking and real estate to aviation and architects, seven small businesses in Polk County have two things in common: They all work tirelessly to serve their clients and they all are finalists for the Central Florida Development Council’s Jim Brantley Economic Development Award – Success in Small Business.  

All will be honored, but only one will win the award when the CFDC holds its annual meeting October 26 at Haus820 in Lakeland.  

The award is named after Brantley, the first director of the agency now known as the CFDC. It is given to a business, institution or organization with fewer than 100 employees that champions growth, free enterprise, economic stability and community service.  

Springer Construction was last year’s winner.   

“Small businesses are the backbone of society, those that are closest to their customers and clients, most of whom they know by name,” said CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott. “We are so proud to have seven finalists who exemplify the characteristics of the Brantley Award.” 

Learn more about the finalists, which are listed in alphabetical order below.  

Bank of Central Florida

At 15 years, the Bank of Central Florida is one of the newer such institutions, but you’d never know it. In that short period of time, the bank – started by President & CEO Paul Noris and a group of backers – has opened six offices, accumulated more than $1 billion in assets, developed a plan for the future and continued to support other small businesses.  

In fact, the Lakeland bank started so local small businesses would have a bank that catered to their needs, offering quick decisions by people who understand their needs and is community oriented.  

“It is an honor to be nominated for this award. At Bank of Central Florida, we are committed to providing the best banking service to our local communities,” Noris said. “We owe 15 years of success to our dedicated staff, who are committed to our core values every day by remaining client-focused and entrepreneurial. Because of our tight-knit team, we are able to serve Central Florida well. We are humbled and grateful for the support our community has shown us, and look forward to continuing Propelling Forward Together.” 

Center State Development

Harold “Reggie” Baxter and Bob Adams started Center State Development in 2019, combining their talents in a new business. Baxter had spent his career focusing on land development, home building, warehouses and self-storage facilities while Adams focused on building homes.    

Center State Development buys raw land, entitles it, engineers it, permits it and does all the civil site work. When the land is ready, the Winter Haven company sells it to national and local home builders, who build and sell houses. The business closed 4,000 residential lots in its first two years. 

“Being recognized as a finalist for this distinguished award is an honor and validation of the hard work and perseverance we’ve put in over the last few years as we worked to grow our company,” Baxter said. “Through the uncertain early times of the pandemic, we successfully adapted to the circumstances, and we are extremely proud of the efforts of our entire team.” 

CPS Investment Advisors

The late Chas P. Smith founded CPS Investment Advisors in 1975 and quickly grew the Lakeland business, offering investments, financial planning, tax preparation and more. Its 55 employees are versed in a full complement of services so clients can get everything done in one place. 

The firm’s employees are fiduciaries, meaning they do not collect a commission and don’t have any conflicts of interest, something that makes President & CEO Peter Golotko proud. He’s also proud of the fact that the company treats people so well that older clients bring their children in to learn about investing.  

“CPS Investment Advisors has served the residents of Polk County and beyond for over 45 years. Throughout this time, CPS has grown to over 50 employees, established a culture rooted in philanthropy and been recognized as a ‘best place to work’ by various organizations,” said Brand Director Erica Lupercio. “CPS is humbled and honored to be a finalist for the award, which highlights the ongoing efforts of the CPS Team to promote from within, hire local talent and work alongside other Polk County businesses. Simply being nominated for this prestigious award helps to keep the CPS Team focused and energized to serve clients and the community.” 

Gulf Coast Avionics

Rick Garcia started his own company, Gulf Coast Avionics, in 1984 to sell, install and repair aircraft electronics. When he saw a similar need to service fixed-wing and rotary aircraft on the West Coast, he started Pacific Coast Avionics in 1991.  

Gulf Coast Avionics’ website says the Lakeland company “has been providing quality merchandise from name brand manufacturers to keep pilots, aircraft owners and operators flying.”  

“It’s an honor for Gulf Coast Avionics to be a finalist considering how many other great companies are in Polk County,” Garcia said. 

Lakeland Linder International Airport

Lakeland Linder International Airport plays an important role in the development of Polk County, and it’s continuing to build on the progress it’s made during the last decade under former director Gene Conrad. Newly appointed Executive Director Kris Hallstrand said the airport is entering Phase 2 – building vertically.   

With tenants ranging from the Hurricane Hunters to Draken International and Amazon, the airport must find more space to house aircraft. It continues to look for private and public investment into the facilities at the airport, which has an economic impact of $1.5 billion in Polk County.  

“Lakeland Linder International Airport (LAL) is honored to be a finalist,” said interim Assistant Airport Director Adam Lunn. “Our team takes pride in all they do, working diligently to maintain, develop and deliver a world-class aerospace hub for the citizens of Lakeland and Polk County. Over the past 10 years, we have undergone an immense capital improvement plan, secured new aerospace businesses and recently ushered in the next round of business development. We wish all the finalists the best of luck and congratulate them on their nominations.”  

Lunn praised the city’s leadership and departments, as well as the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, for supporting the airport’s mission and growth.

Straughn Trout Architects

Straughn Trout Architects (STA) has been building on its reputation of finishing projects on time and on budget for 66 years – leaving satisfied customers throughout Polk County.  

The Lakeland firm has continued to build relationships with new clients while serving repeat clients. It focuses on strengthening its portfolio in project depth and diversity, and is currently working on a $6 million project that will add 10,000 square feet to the Polk Museum of Art to house six new galleries, storage, classrooms and lab space. It also is the architect for the new Lakeland History and Culture Center at the Lakeland Public Library. 

“Being named as a finalist for this award is truly an honor,” said principal Jon Kirk. “STA takes great pride in our work as architects and understands the role we play in shaping the community in which we work, play, learn and worship. With a history spanning six decades, Straughn Trout Architects continues to provide comprehensive design services that include architecture, interior design, sustainable design, facility programming, visioning facilitation and virtual reality.”  

Its staff has the creativity, talent and dedication to “craft projects in a way that impacts our local and regional landscape. One such example is the recently completed AdventHealth Fieldhouse and Conference Center in Winter Haven, which was recently honored by the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay with the coveted 2021 ‘People’s Choice Award.’  This recognition by the community, acknowledging great design, affirms why we do what we do – to design great spaces in which people can do life together.” 

SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate

Dean Saunders founded the company that is now SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate 26 years ago and has built it into a bustling business with more than 60 advisers and two partners – Gary Ralston and Todd Dantzler. It’s a full-service land and commercial real estate brokerage that represents buyers, sellers, investors, institutions and landowners, 

The firm joined SVN (Shared Value Network) in 2019 to have a broader network of like-minded brokers. Last year it celebrated its 25th year by moving into new offices on Bartow Road in Lakeland.  

“We are honored to be recognized as a finalist for this award,” said Marketing Director Jennifer Williamson. “As a commercial real estate brokerage firm, we are dedicated to helping create a balance between the demand for commercial properties and land that is ripe for development and land conservation. We’ve been able to grow as a result of servicing the needs of commercial property owners as well as landowners to help them secure conservation easements as Florida aims to preserve some of its most important resources, including agricultural land and wildlife. We are strong supporters of the Central Florida Development Council’s work in the region and applaud their profound impact on our communities. Congratulations to all of the finalists. We are in good company.” 

Reservations are still available to for this year’s annual meeting, learn more HERE.

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