The new board members represent key enterprises in Polk County, including higher education, government, real estate, citrus, and manufacturing.

“We are excited to add these five new members to the board and will harness their energy and enthusiasm to keep pushing economic prosperity,” said CFDC President and CEO Sean Malott. “Each brings valuable insight into our county and their respective industries.”

In addition to being board members, two are also chairing committees.

Orathai Northern

Dr. Orathai Northern is vice president of Workforce Education & Economic Development at Polk State College and is also chair of CFDC’s Talent Pipeline committee.

“I am excited to be a part of a dynamic team invested in partnerships to promote Polk County as the premier site for business in Florida,” said Northern, who collaborates with local economic development organizations, chambers of commerce and others.

“I look forward to working with our local School District and higher education institutions to maintain an excellent caliber of graduates well-equipped to sustain the talent pipeline for local employers. Furthermore, I will be engaging business partners to learn the qualities and competencies they look for in prospective employees.”

In her role at Polk State, Northern oversees the Corporate College in Bartow, which provides customized workforce training for employers, the Kenneth C. Thompson Institute for Public Safety, which prepares students for careers in public safety, and the Associate in Science degree programs that focus on everything from health sciences to digital media. Before Polk State, she taught at several state colleges for 16 years.

The Tampa native received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in English from the University of California at Riverside.

Deena Ware

Deena Ware is town manager in Dundee and chair of the Community Stakeholders Committee.

“I am looking forward to serving in this capacity with such a dynamic team who have a passion for economic development in our area.  I plan to continue the dialogue and partnership between our diverse communities and our region needs to ensure that everyone thrives.”

Ware was assistant to the town manager and town clerk during two stints in Dundee before being named town manager in 2017. In between, she worked in Fort Meade government for seven years.

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Ware has a bachelor’s degree in Urban Affairs and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.  In 2013, she participated in a month-long Group Study Exchange Program with Rotary International in Taipei, Taiwan. She is an adjunct professor at Polk State College, teaching online and hybrid classes on foundations in public administration and human resources.

Emery Smith

Emery Smith is vice president of Citrus Marketing & Industry Relations for Ben Hill Griffin Inc.

A 22-year veteran at Ben Hill Griffin Inc., Smith has worked in various roles, including environmental and permitting. When a co-worker who was on the CFDC board retired, Smith said he became more interested in economic development and working with the agency. His involvement increased when the company was in negotiations to sell land in Southeast Polk County to Nucor Steel Florida, he said.

“I’ve worked with the staff over the last couple years and really enjoy that involvement, being able to work on the development side,” Smith said.

Although economic development is not the main focus of the citrus and fertilizer company, he said the CFDC does a great job promoting Polk County.

“They would reach out because of our company’s involvement, being an investor, and they wanted to help” attract Nucor here.

Serving on the board gives him a close-up look at what’s being done in the area and what assistance the CFDC can provide, he said.

Smith considers himself a native of Frostproof, he attended Florida Southern College and earned a degree in citrus business.

Randy Knapp

Randy Knapp is the chief executive officer of RLK Real Estate & Development, which focuses its efforts on improving Central Florida sites. RLK’s work ranges from residential communities and recreational sites to warehouses. Randy and his family also run Five Star Family Growers. This Polk County native is a family man, an astute businessman, a philanthropist and a champion for the continued improvement of both Polk County’s economic prosperity and quality of life.

Drew Wilcox

Drew Wilcox is vice president and general manager of Nucor Steel Florida, where he has worked for more than 25 years.

With the addition of Wilcox and Smith who both serve the southern part of the county, the CFDC Board collectively represent all regions of Polk County

Remaining Board Members

Gen. Jake Polumbo of Two Blue Aces chairs the CFDC board for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.

“I’m honored to be leading these talented and committed board members through such an exciting time,” Polumbo said. “The CFDC has devoted the last few years looking at the long-range economic picture of Polk County and how it can influence positive change by focusing on growing key segments. The Central Florida Innovation District is part of that, and it’s exciting to be involved at such an exciting time.”

Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti of Polk State College serves as vice-chair, and Bart Allen of Peterson & Myers PA serves as secretary/treasurer. Todd Dantzler of SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler remains on the board as its past chair.

Rounding out the board is:

  • Maggie Mariucci of Florida Polytechnic University.
  • Pete Frantzis of UBS.
  • Gene Conrad of Lakeland Linder International Airport
  • Bud Strang of Six/Ten LLC
  • Commissioner George Lindsey, representing the Board of County Commissioners.