Behind the scenes. In the realm of economic development, that’s where much of the action takes place.
Before the first spade of dirt is turned for a new restaurant or retail plaza, before the adult-size Erector Set first appears with engines roaring to set steel beams for a new warehouse or manufacturing plant, you bet that a lot of work to get the project to that point has already quietly taken place in the background.
It’s a work of persistent and consistent recruitment and networking. It’s a work of many phone calls, conversations, trade-show ventures, and presentations. It’s a work of significant research and fact-finding. It’s a work of intense planning and agency coordination. It’s a work of heavy-duty regulatory compliance. It’s a work that rarely takes a cookie-cutter approach. It’s a work that sometimes leads to unforeseen work. It’s a work in which delays can be expected, given all the moving parts involved. It’s a work on many levels. It’s a work of master juggling and multitasking. It’s a work that both requires and instills patience.
In the end, when all is said and done, when a business-enriching and job-boosting project literally is off the blueprints and off the ground, it’s extremely rewarding and gratifying work.
At this writing, the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council (EDC) can report that, behind the scenes, in the background, almost a dozen projects are in the works. That’s a significant number. It wouldn’t be prudent to name names at this point, but we can say that four of the projects fall into the commercial-industrial sector and seven are more retail-commercial in scope. Some of the projects are in the early stages of planning while some are ready to go — ready for the dirt to start moving at the construction sites.
As we rejoice in these ready-to-go projects and work diligently here at the EDC — and cooperatively with a variety of partners — to add to their number, we think about the many checkboxes that had to be ticked off to keep the projects moving along toward a construction-ready state. Matters to consider and work through normally include:
- Local, county and state permits
- Transportation regulations (Florida Department of Transportation)
- Water retention, drainage, and mitigation (Southwest Florida Water Management District)
- Zoning requirements and reclassification
- Business incentives and special tax considerations (mostly for industrial projects)
- Utility access (power, water, wastewater, natural gas, broadband/fiber optics)
- Construction plans
- Building supplies
- Legalities (business and government)
- Land use
- Wildlife habitats/endangered species
Oftentimes, the number of checkboxes at the beginning of a project cycle fall well short of the number of boxes that actually get checked before construction starts. The checkboxes seem to always multiply — sometimes including matters that no one would have or could have anticipated early on.
It might be expected that officials with a restaurant chain will want certain demographic and statistical information (such as income levels, housing data, and daily traffic data for a proposed building site) before deciding to locate a restaurant in greater Lake Wales. What might not be so obvious to the public are the considerations for projects that could be built near the municipal airport. In those cases, planners have to factor in “clear zones” and construction height limitations. Something the EDC dealt with recently was a project that required a construction zone “line-of-sight” signoff by the legal team of a nearby business so the company planning to build here could move ahead. That was a checkbox that had to be added to the mix of boxes that were being monitored and completed by the local team.
While it’s true that no two economic development projects are the same, that each is unique, it’s also true that every project is a great learning experience for everyone involved. The good news is that the City of Lake Wales and the EDC team here is very experienced in dealing with routine and not-so-routine matters and is ready and equipped to respond to a variety of project planning and construction issues in a timely, responsible, and professional fashion. That, I’m happy to say, is what helps to make the Chamber-EDC a business-friendly organization to work with and Lake Wales a very business-friendly place for new industry and commerce.