Economic development is a highly rewarding endeavor with a high return on investment, made all the more enjoyable by the quality partnerships that make it all possible. Had it not been for those partnerships, we at the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council might not be celebrating — still! — the recent recruitment to the city of a key unit of Merlin Entertainments, the parent company of the Legoland Florida Resort.
Several organizations and government agencies had key roles in the effort to bring Merlin Magic Making to Longleaf Business Park — a project that justifiably grabbed a lot of media headlines but by no means is the only successful economic development story we’ve had to tell in Lake Wales this past year. One of those highly involved organizations and agencies was the Lake Wales EDC’s closest partner — and closest partner by design — the city of Lake Wales.
For the past two years, the Lake Wales EDC has been under contract, at a rate of $125,000 per year, to serve as the city of Lake Wales’ primary economic development agency. At one time, economic development and business recruitment were tasks that occupied one or more city departments and/or officials, but the majority opinion today — based on experience and results— is that economic development is best done by independent agencies that work for and in tandem with government.
There are so many moving parts to city government and daily challenges to meet, economic development as a role of government usually doesn’t get the kind of focus it can get from a dedicated agency, like an EDC. In addition, government in Florida is subject to the state’s open-records law — the Sunshine Law. This makes it difficult for government officials to provide prospective new businesses the cloak of confidentiality their owners want and expect when negotiations are under way for site selection, services, tax and financial incentives, and other business-recruitment matters. A private and autonomous agency, like the Lake Wales EDC, can operate at arm’s length from government — but on behalf of government — and provide business owners a higher level of comfort and confidentiality as they shop for a new or additional operational site.
We at the EDC want to deliver a service that doesn’t burden or cause a perceived risk for a prospective new or existing company. We want to streamline the process in matters related to site selection and development, zoning, planning, utilities, inspections, and incentives; and, when appropriate, we want to share potentially useful business relationships that we’ve already made. Enterprise Florida (the state’s economic development arm), the Polk County government, the Central Florida Development Council, and, particularly in our case, the Lake Wales city government, all help during that process — providing research, information, resources, technical assistance, and feedback — to make it as easy as possible.
It’s a real pleasure to work with the leaders, managers and staffers at Lake Wales City Hall. For the Lake Wales EDC to be effective and successful in business recruitment, it’s of upmost importance that highly competent, skilled, and dedicated people be placed in the key positions in city government. That’s exactly what we have in City Manager Kenneth Fields, Mayor Eugene Fultz, and the entire team they have assembled for our City. They all make the job we’re expected to do here at the Lake Wales EDC an easier and efficient process, and the business community is grateful for that.