Small businesses are the backbone of America, largely run by involved owners who care for their employees, who in turn give their best every day. It’s those companies that survived, and some even thrived, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Three such companies will be honored on September 30 as finalists for the Central Florida Development Council’s Jim Brantley Economic Development Award – Success in Small Business. And one will win the award, which will be given at the CFDC’s annual meeting at the Lake Eva Event Center in Haines City. 

The finalists are Grindley Williams Engineering, Springer Construction and The Southern Group.

The award is named after Brantley, the first director of the Economic Development Departiment at the county that would later become what is today the Central Florida Development Council. It is given to a business, institution or organization with fewer than 100 employees that champions growth, free enterprise, economic stability and community service.

“These three companies define what small businesses do for our community and their employees,” said CFDC President & CEO Sean Malott. “In every way, they epitomize what’s good in Polk County.”

FHS received the honor last year.

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

Grindley Williams Engineering

Grindley Williams Engineering is a Lakeland-based consulting firm specializing in forensic engineering, structural design, geotechnical engineering, mechanical/electrical/plumbing and fire protection design engineering, geology, geophysics and 3D Site Scanning.  

Founded in October 2015 when Dave Grindley and Jon Williams bought Lake Wales-based MCD engineering, the firm now has more than 80 employees and serves five southern states.

Being nominated is important to GWE, said Brett Blondell, business development associate. “We are such a young company so to be recognized in our community among so many other great companies and organizations is truly an honor. We never set out to win any awards or recognition, just to create a high-quality engineering firm that produces a quality product that enriches our clients’ work and the communities we work in. I think winning the award would signify that our work and impact in the community is being noticed and, most importantly, is making a difference.” 

GWE is the only full MEP design firm in Polk County, Blondell said, “and one of the main reasons we developed a team was because it was a high need for our clients. We’ve grown from fairly humble beginnings in 2015 with just 13 employees to now employing over 80 people.”

Springer Construction

Recently ranked No. 13 on the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Fast 50 list, Springer Construction of Eaton Park was founded by Rob Peterson in 1987. His son, Cole Springer, and Jeremy Voss bought it from Springer’s wife in 2017 and are now running a construction management firm.

The company saw revenue growth of 188% in two years, increasing from $4.14 million in 2018 to $11.9 million in 2020.

​​Kait Jens, business development and marketing manager, said it is an honor to be a finalist for the Brantley Award. “Building a community starts before concrete is even poured, and it’s our mission to promote the growth of the local community through partnering with both the public and private markets to improve and revitalize existing and new businesses alike. By placing our employees and clients first, we’ve created a team with a common vision whose focus remains on continuously working together to bring dreams and designs to life.”

Relationships are important to the company, Jens said. “We’re here to demonstrate trust and build relationships first and foremost. The level of care and attention given to every project and client is how and why we continue to deliver quality projects, on time and on budget.”

Those who work at Springer are engaged in the community.

“Our principals are highly involved in various community service and mentorship organizations, and those values are highlighted and lived by each and every member of our team,” Jens said. “Most of our team has resided in Central Florida for the majority of their lives, and it’s important to all of us to positively impact where we work, live and play.

The Southern Group

The Southern Group, known as the Southern Strategy Group for 20 years, is Florida’s largest lobbying firm. It changed its name in October 2019 to better reflect the services it provides its clients.

Founded by Paul Bradshaw in 1999 and headquartered in Tallahassee, The Southern Group operates in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. Its 41 employees represent nearly 200 clients before state and local governments. In Polk County, they represent such institutions as Southeastern and Florida Polytechnic universities, the city of Lakeland, Nucor Corp., Lakeland Regional Health Systems, Chastain-Skillman, DSM Technology, Peace River Center and several constitutional officers, among others.  

“It is a tremendous honor for The Southern Group to be included in this impressive group of candidates for the CFDC’s Brantley Award,” said lobbyist David Shepp. “The Southern Group broke the mold of traditional lobbying firms that concentrated all of their energy, and manpower, in the capital city.  We adopted a regional approach in order to build deep relationships throughout the state of Florida.”

Shepp lives in Polk County, as does Southern Group managing partner Seth McKeel. Strong roots are important to The Southern Group, he said. “Our goal is to be as impactful as possible in our home communities and to do everything in our power to make our communities successful.  Being nominated for the Brantley Award is a validation of that commitment to local service.”

What makes The Southern Group successful? “Our team,” Shepp said. “We consistently hire the best and brightest minds in the political realm and provide the maximum value to our clients.”