The dawning of any new year, as we’re seeing now for 2019, naturally brings on a period of personal, professional, and organizational reflection about and evaluation of the year fading away. As we at the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council look back on 2018, we’re pleased to report that it’s been a very good year — a great year, in fact — for local business expansion and economic development. It began with a bang and ending with great fanfare. In between were smaller-scale successes and seed sowing that will reap great economic benefits for years to come.
As we reported in this space 11 months ago, calendar year 2018 got off to a fantastic start economically with the announcement that the long-vacant former International Paper box-making facility, the massive complex just west of Lake Wales on State Road 60, had been sold to a company offering 100 manufacturing and support jobs. The sale of the plant to The Fence Outlet, a Florida-based manufacturing and retail company, was finalized in December 2017. By the start of February 2018, the company had begun to hire its first round of start-up employees.
With seven retail locations throughout Central Florida, The Fence Outlet offers fencing materials and supplies and manufactures much of what it sells retail. With the purchase of the Lake Wales property, the company positioned itself well, getting a 273,384-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility, sitting on 50 acres, to support its retail centers.
Fast forward to December, just a couple of weeks before Christmas, the city and local residents enjoyed early holiday gifts with the big-time grand-opening celebrations for two new retail centers near the Eagle Ridge Mall. Those would be the Wawa convenience store and fueling station at the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 North and Chalet Suzanne Road and, across the highway, the Aldi grocery store, at 753 Thompson Nursery Road.
In between the news about The Fence Company and the store launches at Wawa and Aldi, we saw these very positive economy-boosting developments locally:
- Work continued on the major expansion of runways and other facilities at Lake Wales Municipal Airport.
- Lake Wales Medical Center opened its new, 5,100-square-foot Wound Healing Center on the site of an old doctor offices complex at the corner of State Road 60 and 11th Street. The address is 1120 Carlton Ave, Suite 1100.
- Central Florida Plywood & Lumber, a plywood and lumber distribution company, opened for business in the old Walmart Supercenter, behind Walgreen’s, at 1901 State Road 60 and Buck Moore Road. Officials with the Brazilian-owned lumber company saw Lake Wales to be the best location to serve Central Florida and also service its customers in the Tampa, Orlando, and Miami markets.
- Harbor Freight Tools announced it would come to Lake Wales and fill the retail space formerly occupied by Big!Lots in the Orange Grove Shopping Center at 1366 S.R.60 E.
- The demolition of an old motel and veterinary clinic at Thompson Nursery Road and U.S. 27 North made way not only for the newly opened Aldi store but also for two future outparcel businesses.
- On the opposite side of Thompson Nursery Road, more old buildings were demolished to make way for a new auto dealership.
- On the south side of Lake Wales, at the 164-acre Lake Wales Commerce & Technology Park (formerly Longleaf Business Park), progress continues in the effort to recruit buyers and tenants for vacant space there. In fact, there’s a report that a new enterprise is coming to the commerce park soon, but the news is too premature to announce at this time.
- There’s a new IHOP restaurant for Lake Wales. Open 24 hours a day, the IHOP is located at 2803 Ridge Way, near the Kohl’s department store, just north of Shoppes on The Ridge (the Publix shopping center), on U.S. 27 North.
- A new location for MyEyeDr., an eye-care center, opened at 1611 S.R. 60 E. The national company, with locations all along the U.S. East Coast and several in and around Chicago, remodeled an existing medical facility for its new use as an eye clinic.
- Guests at the Holiday Inn Express on Ridge Way, near Kohl’s, are enjoying recently complete room renovations.
- Construction has begun at the site of a new Love’s Truck Stop on the east side of U.S. 27 South, across from the Lake Wales Commerce & Technology Park.
- While it’s not in Lake Wales, excitement continues to build about Nucor, the steel company that will open a new $250 million rebar manufacturing plant near Frostproof. The plant is expected to provide spillover economic benefits to greater Lake Wales.
- In 2018, hundreds of contacts were made by Lake Wales Chamber-EDC officers, staffers, directors, and investor-partners, and reams of information were provided about our great community, laying the groundwork for more local business start-ups and expansion projects in 2019 and beyond.
Economic development activities thrive when the environment is ripe for it, and we’re fortunate that the economy was robust throughout Florida this past year. The economic statistics provide great evidence of that. Consider these current numbers from The Florida Scorecard (https://thefloridascorecard.org), a project of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Chamber Foundation:
- Florida unemployment rate: 3.3 percent (declining)
- Polk County unemployment rate: 3.4 percent
- Florida job gains (year over year): Plus 241,600
- Polk job gains (year over year): Plus 10,127
- Florida visitors: 118.8 million (improving)
- Spending by Florida visitors: $111.7 billion (improving)
- State housing starts and sales: 8,413 (improving)
- Polk housing permits: 3,424 (improving)
- Polk sales tax revenue: $71.63 million per year (improving)
- State income migration: $989,000 per hour
- Polk wealth migration: $154.44 million per year
- State high school graduation rate: 86.1 percent (improving)
- Polk high school graduation rate: 80.4 percent (improving)
It’s good to end the year on many positive economic notes. It gives us great satisfaction about the economic development work accomplished in and around Lake Wales in 2018, provides the basis for a lot of optimism about 2019, and motivates us to continue working hard to build on recent successes.
From all of us at the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC to all of you, have a very productive, prosperous, healthy, and happy New Year. Cheers to 2019!