Here in the offices of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council, a lot a great things happen for the benefit of area visitors and potential visitors, and for the good of the local business community and general economy. Supported by the city, local businesses, our generous investor-partners, and many individuals, the fine Chamber-EDC staff stays busy answering phones, fielding inquiries, responding to requests for information and brochures, conducting marketing research, and so much more.
In addition to the office work, and extremely valuable and productive, is the Chamber-EDC’s work in the field – where the movers and shakers of business, industry, and commerce go or tend to go, where the rubber of economic development really hits the road. The field is a large one — really, it’s as large as we want to make it – and limited to us only in our ability to reach it for greater Lake Wales by modern travel and technology.
Just a few weeks ago, the field for the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC stretched all the way to Las Vegas, the site of RECon 2018 (May 20-23) – “the world’s largest global gathering of retail real estate professionals.” It’s an annual convention, presented by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and many co-sponsors. The Lake Wales Chamber-EDC has had a presence at RECon for a number of years; it’s too big and too important to miss. Joining me in representing our Chamber-EDC this year in a display and information booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center was Robbie Shields of Florida’s Natural, EDC board and Chamber board member.
The description of RECon as “the world’s largest global gathering of retail real estate professionals” really doesn’t do justice to this huge event (approximately 40,000 registered attendees and 1,256 exhibitors this year, with both numbers up from the 2017 show). Yes, retail real estate pros were there in big-time numbers, but so were thousands of other professionals — representing virtually any kind of enterprise that can touch a real estate, commercial construction, or economic development deal. From site-study and engineering firms to mall and shopping center developers and a company that sells specialty lighting for parking lots, we saw them there. The convention also featured a big presence by companies you would recognize locally –– companies like Dollar General, Wawa, and Aldi, each of which is doing very well and expanding quickly all across the nation.
To borrow a description from the world of sports, economic development is a full-contact enterprise, and from our Lake Wales marketing and economic development station, we were in full contact with hundreds of RECon visitors and delegates daily. Some of those contacts led to further discussions after normal show hours. Contacts lead to interest, interest leads to questions, answers lead to ideas, ideas lead to possibilities, and possibilities potentially lead to deals. If we’ve done our homework, pitched well the benefits of doing business in and around Lake Wales, and provided a good foundation and environment for new business — as we know we’ve done here — before we know it, we could be seeing giant cranes setting giant steel building frames and beams into place for the next new local shopping center, retail store, restaurant, or manufacturing center.
All told, only about 10 percent of the people we spoke with at RECon had heard about Lake Wales and knew something about our great community, but that was OK. That gave us the grand opportunity to be, collectively and for the remaining 90 percent of our booth visitors, a walking and talking billboard for Lake Wales and all the good things the community can offer a new commercial or industrial enterprise.
We won’t know for some time what kind of direct economic development results we’ll see locally from the Las Vegas convention, but we do know this: Fresh seeds for new exposure to Lake Wales and new development have been planted, and we here at the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC will work hard with all means possible to water and nurture them. Even now I can report that it was well worth our time and expense to be at RECon 2018. What follows the opportunity to be there will be many opportunities to follow up.