Residents and businesspeople in greater Lake Wales have several choices when it comes to local banking and lending institutions. Among them, CenterState Bank plays a valuable role as an investor partner and supporter of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council.
CenterState was formed in Winter Haven in 2000 and had a branch presence in Lake Wales by May 2004. With headquarters now in Davenport, the company has quickly grown and expanded to include 66 banking centers and four loan-production offices in 25 Florida counties — from the Florida Keys to Jacksonville.
Paul Gerrard, whose banking career in Lake Wales goes back to 1990, joined CenterState’s Lake Wales-area operations in June 2005 and now serves the company as East Polk County community president.
Paul is a director on each of the two boards that provide separate direction for the Lake Wales chamber and Lake Wales EDC, and in 2011 he served as chamber president. During a recent conversation, Paul said he’s observed the economic development activities and efforts in and around Lake Wales since the early 1990s, and he said he likes what he’s seeing today.
“I think the city (government) and Lake Wales are moving in the right direction,” he said. A notable example of that, he said, was Merlin Entertainments’ selection of Lake Wales as the creative hub for its Merlin Magic Making operation. Merlin Entertainments is the parent company of Legoland Florida Resort in Winter Haven, and Merlin Magic Making is a key support division for Merlin Entertainments’ model builders and designers. Official operations at Merlin Magic Making in Lake Wales’ Longleaf Business Park began in mid-January this year.
Looking back, Paul said, it was key a few years ago when Angela Pulido, David Fisher, Brian Marbutt, Ellis Hunt Jr., and other Lake Wales chamber leaders persuaded the city of Lake Wales to drop its internal economic development program and instead partner with the chamber for expanded and enhanced efforts to market the city and attract new business.
Paul says that just as Lake Wales sits at the crossroads of State Road 60 and U.S. Highway 27, the city was at a crossroads for economic development.
“We felt as a chamber board at the time that it was the direction we needed to go, to have the Lake Wales chamber be the city’s partner in economic development,” Paul said.
With the Lake Wales EDC established as an equal arm of the chamber, the city of Lake Wales-Lake Wales chamber partnership for economic development was forged in mid-2013.
Since then, Paul said, “I think the EDC has done a good job getting Lake Wales on the map (for prospective new businesses), marketing Lake Wales as a business-friendly city, and letting companies know that they can come in and get the help they need to establish themselves here.”
Paul said business owners have three primary things in mind when they’re thinking about relocating to or expanding into a new area — speed, risk, and money.
“Speed. How fast can we get up and running? Risk. Is the community a stable community for my business? Is the workforce I’m going to need already there? And money. How much is going to cost me to move? Is the infrastructure there? If it’s not, is it going to cost me anything to get it, or is someone else going to pay for it?
“These are the things we (at the EDC) have to look at, too, when we’re trying to convince a company to come here,” Paul said.
“The biggest thing is getting on people’s radar, and I think (the EDC) has done a good job of getting us there.”
Paul said the Lake Wales area has a lot going for it as potential destination for new businesses, and that includes “a great charter school system.” He said the addition of an executive housing subdivision, one with homes valued at $400,000 and higher, would make the area an even stronger magnet for economic development. “Business owners are looking for that kind of housing for their executives,” he said.
Paul said the value of CenterState Bank’s involvement in the Lake Wales EDC primarily is twofold: “There’s the unselfish reason and the selfish reason,” he said. “The unselfish reason is that CenterState in Lake Wales wants greater Lake Wales to grow. The selfish reason is: We get the opportunity to assist new business customers with their banking needs when they come into town — not only the businesses but the people who work for them.”
Paul described CenterState in Lake Wales as a “nice-size branch” with $53 million in loans and $46 million in deposits. The business goal of any bank, of course, is to move those figures upward.
“Both Citizens Bank & Trust and CenterState Bank do an excellent job reaching out to businesses and their people — even if they come in starting out with a national bank — and trying to capture their banking needs,” Paul said. “We’re banking with a focus on being a community bank that keeps the dollars right here. If businesses are banking with us, the money stays in Lake Wales.”
The Lake Wales EDC is grateful for the CenterState Bank’s investment in and commitment to local economic development efforts and for Paul Gerrard’s volunteer service on the chamber and EDC boards.