Lakeland Economic Development Council and Plant City Economic Development Corp. met to discuss business.
It felt like history was being made: the mayors and city managers of Plant City and Lakeland, as well as business leaders from Hillsborough and Polk counties, met in a panel before an audience of nearly 150.
The panel was part of a joint meeting between the Lakeland Economic Development Council and the Plant City Economic Development Corp. It took place at the new Sparkle Skirts facility, which is one of eight Central Florida Development Corporation County Line Road buildings.
The two entities gathered to talk about what else — business.
The Lakeland EDC achieved much success while current Plant City Manager Mike Herr was Polk County manager. Herr was hired to the Plant City post nearly two years ago with a charge from Mayor Rick Lott and the City Commission to build the same economic development powerhouse Herr had supported during his Polk County watch.
As reported by Lakeland EDC’s Claudia Tritton, the top 10 distribution centers on the Lakeland side of County Line Road now include 7.4 million square feet of floor space, and the top 10 employers there employ over 10,500 workers. Those milestones have been achieved by the efforts of the Lakeland EDC and the City of Lakeland, after it invested in infrastructure along the east side of County Line Road.
Following Lakeland’s successful development model, Herr said the City of Plant City will continue to invest in water and sewer infrastructure along the west side of County Line Road. Then the Plant City EDC, financed primarily by investments from East Hillsborough businesses, will do the work of marketing further development along County Line Road to new and existing businesses.
This meeting demonstrated another important economic development strategy for Plant City: partnering with Lakeland.
But why, some may ask, when Plant City is a part of Hillsborough County, is it important to reach across the county line and work with Lakeland?
"While working vigorously with Hillsborough County organizations, Plant City needs to build partnerships with other compatible area organizations and take charge of our own destiny."
Plant City has long worked with many Hillsborough County organizations. The city works with Hillsborough County government, county-wide planning organizations and the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Branches of Hillsborough Community College and the Metro YMCA add much to our quality of life.
But the resources of these county-wide organizations are stretched, and sometimes needs in other parts of the county must be met first.
So, while working vigorously with Hillsborough County organizations, Plant City needs to build partnerships with other compatible area organizations and take charge of our own destiny. Since Plant City’s market area includes Lakeland, it makes sense for Plant City to expand its reach eastward and strengthen our partnership with the Lakeland EDC.
Plant City should and will continue to work with Hillsborough County organizations. But other factors propel us to look eastward, across our close-by Polk County border, and to partner with Lakeland.
Felix Haynes is a co-owner of the Plant City Times & Observer.