By staff writer
Often known as the city sandwiched between Orlando and Tampa or as the host of one of America’s largest aviation shows, the City of Lakeland has been working diligently to accelerate its prominence not only in Polk County but also throughout the state of Florida. With the combination of an expanding economy, growing population and multiple initiatives from local government, Lakeland is primed to be Florida’s next rising star.
It hasn’t even been 10 years since Lakeland’s population crossed into the 100,000 residents range, yet there is a spark of excitement throughout the community that is felt in both the private and public sectors. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down with Lakeland’s mayor, Bill Mutz, to discuss the growth and major economic drivers for the city.
“Two of the major drivers are our location between Tampa and Orlando,” Mayor Mutz told Invest:. “We have the DNA of a city that’s geographically been born in a good spot and is on the cusp of a large acceleration of growth.” The mayor went on to speak about the impact of supermarket giant Publix having its headquarters in the city. “Publix is also headquartered here, and they have 1,237 stores and over 210,000 employees, making them a huge influence throughout the region.”
The mayor revealed to Invest: that the strategy for continued growth in the region is “an effective long-term game plan” that is reliant on involving residents of the city in all aspects of the community.
This idea of long-term success was clearly evident when we spoke with Steve Scruggs, president of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, who made it clear that the focus is not only on growth for the city but also for its residents.
“This year we are focusing on entrepreneurship and major groundbreaking work in the downtown area through our catalyst sites project,” Scruggs told Invest:. “We identified areas for redevelopment within our downtown that would embody new commercial, retail and office high-rises, parking garages, a soccer stadium, a promenade and an elevated pedestrian walkway. These plans are getting more traction and are part of a big project happening in downtown.”
Scruggs emphasized the point that supporting entrepreneurs and local business in the area is an essential part of the growth initiatives. “We are building a new facility for entrepreneurs in downtown Lakeland that will open up this year,” he said. “The project is part of our Catapult 2.0 initiative and will host a commercial kitchen, a makerspace with wood and metal working shops, CNC machining, 3D printers and co-working spaces. It is privately funded and a place for entrepreneurs to test out their concepts in a low-risk financial space. It is a nonprofit project to give back to the community and increase the viability of startups through education, collaborative workspace and funding.”
From an outsider perspective, it might seem that these initiatives and ideas for internal growth in Lakeland are far-reaching, but this growth from within is exactly what Mayor Mutz is hoping will push Lakeland to the next level.
“We’re a city that has an unusual heart and the capability of communicating trust across sectors within the community,” he said. “This is increasingly important in today’s society. In a decisive world with much polarization, to model inclusiveness is going to be extremely attractive to future residents.”
Invest: Tampa Bay can’t wait to see what’s in store for Lakeland in 2019 and beyond!