It’s a need borne of successful local economic development. It’s a need that can be economic development in its own right. It’s a need that can support the cause of further economic development for years to come.
The need is for housing — housing of all kinds but particularly executive-level homes, condominiums and apartments.
Paul Gerrard touched on this subject in last month’s column. Paul is the East Polk County community president for CenterState Bank and a member of the board of directors for both the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Wales Economic Development Council (EDC). He said that while greater Lake Wales has a lot going for it as potential destination for new businesses, the addition of an executive housing subdivision would make the 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 mentioned the need for homes valued at $400,000 and higher, and he’s right about that. The cause of local economic development would be helped and supported as well by more homes valued at between $200,000 and $300,000.
Here’s the situation: The EDC and its partner organizations are having notable success bringing new businesses to Lake Wales, helping existing businesses to expand, and boosting the job base. The additional jobs we’re seeing — and thankful for — are coming in at the full spectrum of pay grades, including executive-level pay. While many of those executives are finding housing to meet their needs and wants, some are not. Some executives with new and established local companies are commuting from homes outside of Lake Wales, and some of the commuters are traveling from as far away as Orlando.
In the business of economic development — the business of business building — the ideal scenario is for people to live where the jobs are. Among several economic benefits, this keeps their dollars local (providing a boost for retailers, restaurant owners, and service providers) and reduces their cost of living — principally the cost of transportation to and from the workplace.
Also in the business of economic development, we want to be able to answer “Yes, we have it!” when owners of prospective new businesses ask us if we have, right here in Lake Wales, the housing options their employees — the executives included — will need.
Plugging in some demographic information, the group at infoUSA.com shares that there are 2,800 people within a 10-mile radius of the Lake Wales ZIP code 33853 with executive-level incomes of $100,000 to $249,000 annually. Currently on Realtor.com, approximately 155 single-family homes are up for sale within a 10-mile radius of 33853. Based on current projected population growth rates, the area will need a total of 4,396 executive-level homes by 2040 — or a net gain of 1,596 homes — to meet the expected demand for them.
This is where opportunity comes in. The anecdotal reports and statistical evidence both show that there’s a need for executive-level housing in greater Lake Wales, and there’s an opportunity for willing and capable developers to provide it. This could be in form of one or more subdivisions with single-family homes or residential communities featuring a mix of single-family homes and multi-family units. Potential community sites — potential growth areas — already have been identified. They include the Eagle Ridge Mall-Chalet Suzanne area on the north side of Lake Wales; the area east of the Walmart Supercenter, off State Road 60; and areas to the south, between Lake Wales and Babson Park.
The focus here has been on executive-level housing, but all of us in economic development throughout Polk County are seeing the forecasts for an increased overall demand for housing. Why? Polk’s population now stands roughly at 635,000 (a U.S. Census Bureau estimate put it at 634,638 for 2014), but projections have the population pushing 1 million by 2040. That’s an estimated 300,000 more residents for Polk in just 25 years, with the trends showing higher population growth on the county’s east side — along the U.S. Highway 27 corridor — than the west side.
Who among Polk County’s developers and housing builders want to help us get ready for that? Who among the local builders want to help meet the growing demand for executive-level homes and have a direct and positive impact on local economic development?
The leadership of the Lake Wales Economic Development Council invites all developers and builders to help us resolve our local housing challenges. Call us at 863-676-3445 with your questions or to set up a meeting. In addition, the EDC extends an open invitation to all local businesses and organizations to join the agency as an economic partner and help advance its economic-development mission. Your investment and participation will do a world of economy-building good.