Optimism about the future of economic development in greater Lake Wales is scaling new heights, bolstered by a considerable amount of positive local business news from the past 16 months or so. That news was summarized in a Lake Wales Economic Development Council (EDC) report and presentation to the Lake Wales City Commission on Oct. 6.
For those who couldn’t attend the commission meeting, I’d like to take the opportunity in this month’s EDC column to share the highlights from the presentation. After you read through the list, I think — I hope — you’ll agree with those of us at the Lake Wales EDC that the business-recruiting and job-boosting efforts for the region are heading in the right direction.
- So far in 2015, the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and LWEDC has had a role in working 25 industrial- or distribution-sector leads, with business payrolls ranging from five to 400 jobs. The leads have come from a variety of sources, including Enterprise Florida Inc., the Central Florida Development Council (CFDC), other local EDCs, and business site-selection consultants.
- In the biggest local economic development news so far this year, Merlin Entertainments, the parent company of the nearby LEGOLAND Florida Resort, announced in July that it had purchased the former Harley Davidson building in Longleaf Business Park. The building will be the regional home for Merlin Magic Making, Merlin Entertainments’ sixth — and largest — team of model builders and designers. The center will support as many as 60 new jobs, paying an average wage of $45,000 per year. Remodeling work at the old motorcycle dealership building is under way, with “magic-making” operations expected to start there before the end of December.
- The city of Lake Wales, the Lake Wales EDC and Intrepid Precast Inc. negotiated a deal for land in Longleaf Business Park. Intrepid Precast is a maker of site walls, security walls, privacy walls, and noise walls (including noise walls for the Florida Department of Transportation). The company will operate from a new industrial building at least 100,000 square feet in size and will create anywhere from 50 to 100 jobs.
- FMX Inc., a Jacksonville-based transportation and logistics company, is now operational with a new hub and 45 employees on Old South Lake Wales Road.
- Grow Healthy Holdings purchased a former Sealy Mattress plant on South Acuff Road in Lake Wales. The company has plans to cultivate marijuana plants indoors and produce therapeutic cannabis oil under strict state regulations. The oil is used in special situations to treat cancer and epilepsy. Grow Healthy owners are waiting for additional approvals to move ahead with construction at the old mattress plant. The company could employ as many as 75 people there.
- Oakley Transport Inc., a distributor of liquid food products, announced plans for a $1.5 million expansion of its trucking facility on ABC Road in Lake Wales and the creation of 103 new jobs.
- American Garden Perlite LLC, a maker of non-organic water-retention additives for potting soil, is opening a manufacturing plant on Airport Road and is expected to create approximately 10 jobs.
- A 400,000-square-foot office-warehousing complex has been completed at the Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center in south Winter Haven, just a few miles west of Lake Wales. The complex is ideal for companies that can use and support the adjacent CSX Intermodal Rail Terminal, the world’s most advanced rail-to-truck and truck-to-rail cargo transfer facility.
- The pace of local commercial, retail and office construction has picked up considerably. Companies with current or recently completed construction projects (new buildings or renovations) in the past 18 months include the following: Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Ridge Quality Motors, Dunkin’ Donuts, Brock’s Smokehouse, Mattress Firm, Anita’s Mexican Restaurant, Tacos Daniel, Rural King, Budget Inn, Dawn’s Flower Patch, Westgate River Ranch (expansion), O’Reilly Auto Parts, Egg House, McDonald’s, Medical Center at Eagle Ridge, and Family Elder Law (Lake Wales office).
- Inquiries related to Longleaf Business Park have increased significantly in the past six months. Land and buildings at the industrial park are now being professionally brokered, and park buildings 11 and 12 are undergoing repairs and upgrades.
In addition to all of these business and industrial activities, the Lake Wales EDC is positioning itself for more effective business recruiting. The EDC is well into a two-year action plan that involves increased agency marketing, attendance at more trade shows, implementation of a new program for leads tracking and follow-up, and development of a comprehensive local property database.
To borrow a phrase, “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” But, we’re not doing things alone and we can’t — and won’t — take all the credit for the local economic development successes going back almost a year and a half. We have a lot of terrific partners in this regional economic development effort — from the city of Lake Wales on up through the CFDC and Enterprise Florida — and we’re all working for the common economic good.
With all the great news we had to report to the Lake Wales City Commission in early October, we have every reason to believe that the next presentation will be just as exciting.