Small businesses have had an exceptionally tough year thanks to the coronavirus, but many have persevered in a time of great adversity. On Oct. 15, one will receive the Jim Brantley Economic Development Award – Success in Small Business by the Central Florida Development Council.

The award was renamed last year after Brantley, the first director of the agency that has since been renamed the Central Florida Development Council. It is given at the CFDC’s Annual Meeting to a business, institution or organization that champions growth, free enterprise, economic stability and community service.

Based on the criteria, four small businesses (fewer than 100 employees) have been selected as finalists: FHS Inc., Ben Hill Griffin Inc., Southern Homes and Straughn Trout Architects.

“Our finalists are important contributors to Polk County’s economic prosperity, providing quality employment opportunities and meaningful growth here,” said CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott. “They live and work here, and they care about our community and making it better in whatever way they can.”

The Lunz Group received the honor last year.

Keep reading to learn more about the finalists, listed below in alphabetical order.

Ben Hill Griffin, Inc.

Ben Hill Griffin Jr. started his business more than 50 years ago with a 10-acre orange grove and a small citrus packinghouse. Now, the company has become Ben Hill Griffin Inc. and is run by his grandson, Ben Hill Griffin IV, who oversees 10,000 acres of citrus groves and 85,000 acres of cattle land in Central Florida.

Ben Hill Griffin Inc. is a member of Florida’s Natural cooperative. It’s also the parent company of subsidiary Griffin Fertilizer Co., which blends dry and liquid fertilizers to help protect crops.

“Ben Hill Griffin Inc. is honored to be included with the other companies that are being recognized for economic development in Polk County,” said Emery Smith, vice president of citrus marketing and industry relations. “The CFDC is a great partner to work with on developing strong business opportunities and relationships for our growing area of the state. We value our relationship with CFDC and look forward to their continued success.”

FHS Inc.

FHS Inc. started in 1994 and focuses on overhead cranes, hoist systems, riggings, fall protection, inspections and more. The leading material handling distributor in the Southeast, FHS hires and trains local talent.

Its team of experts at FHS works with clients to solve problems quickly, ensuring quality work and pleased customers. Part of the Mazzella Companies, its OSHA-certified trainers teach online and in-person classes on safety, inspections and more.

“It is such an honor to be nominated for the Jim Brantley Economic Development Success in Small Business award,” said Sales Engineer Connor Regan. “This recognition means a great deal to us due to the fact of being tasked with the repercussions and protocols of COVID-19.  FHS has been forced to act as a chameleon and learn to adapt to the changes throughout the community and local businesses. We want to make sure we continue to tackle this pandemic with our best foot forward in order to have a positive impact on the local community. 

“Our dedicated team members, from our service team and sales team to our in-house engineering team and administrative/accounting teams, all share one commonality of delivering that second-mile service’ touch to our customers and the people of Polk County.”

Southern Homes of Polk County

Southern Homes has been building quality new homes in Polk County for nearly 30 years. Founders Greg Masters and Ed Laderer live in Polk County, as do all members of their team. Masters oversees construction, accounting, purchasing and land development while Laderer handles marketing, financing and land acquisitions.

As part of its success, Southern Homes started the “My Home, My Way” program, which allows customers to personalize their options, leading to greater happiness in their homes.

“Southern Homes is proud to have been serving this community we love for close to three decades, so to be recognized by other engaged local community members for positively impacting our area is an honor,” said Director of Marketing Ashley Link. “Big congratulations also to Ben Hill Griffin, FHS and Straughn Trout for their tremendous contributions. Southern Homes is thrilled to be acknowledged alongside you.”

Masters gives back to many organizations and previously was president of the Polk County Builders Association and is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church. Laderer has been a director at the Polk County Builders Association and Anchor House Ministries, among others.

Straughn Trout Architects

With 65 years of business behind it, Straughn Trout Architects has built on its reputation of finishing projects on time and on budget, leaving satisfied customers throughout Polk County. Its services range from architectural, engineering and interior design to planning and visioning facilitation.

Ernest Straughn moved from North Carolina to Lakeland in 1960 and immediately took over the 4-year-old firm. Now, managing principal Tim Hoeft continues the work Straughn started, focusing on strengthening its portfolio in project depth and diversity, as well as building relationships with new clients while maintaining those with repeat clients. He praises the firm for coming in on-time and on-budget on projects, always putting the client first in a collaborative atmosphere.

“We are honored to be recognized and associated with the other well-accomplished nominees,” Hoeft said. “Mr. Brantley was known for his ability to collaborate and build trust among a diversity of stakeholders across the county, and this approach has served our business for over six decades. Our firm’s success is a reflection of our outstanding team that strives daily to make our community a better place to live, work and play.”

Last year, Straughn Trout was named to the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Fast 50 list, placing 31st on the list with growth of 112% over the past three years. Among its architectural success stories is building the first net-zero building in Florida (meaning it produces as much energy as it consumes). It also designed the McKay Archives Center on Florida Southern College, the Family Worship Center and, most recently, the Chain of Lakes Fieldhouse and Conference Center in Winter Haven.

The company continues its growth and added architect Jon Kirk as a principal in 2019.

In addition to supporting economic development, the firm also supports the Imperial Symphony Orchestra and Polk Museum of Art, among others.