Plant City is focused on economic development. Churches are growing along with the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
Over 100 friends, neighbors and political supporters of Nate Kilton gathered recently at The Corner Store to celebrate Kilton’s election to our City Commission.
After Kilton called the group to order, he thanked them for coming to the event and for their support in his election. Then he did something that in many communities would be unusual: he asked everyone to bow their heads, and he prayed.
He prayed for Plant City, and he thanked God for our fine community. He prayed he would be a good commissioner and that the Commission would continue to provide leadership in economic development and in the creation of jobs for our friends and neighbors.
For those of us who know and love Plant City, Kilton’s prayer was normal, even expected. Within a framework of a strong set of religious and family values, the City Commission and City Manager Mike Herr have made economic development and job creation job one since fall 2014.
The Plant City Economic Development Corporation is just over a year old but has grown to 52 dues-paying members and an annual budget of over $400,000. Stand at the intersection of Reynolds and Collins streets in downtown Plant City and face in any direction, and you can name major economic development and construction projects going on.
City Director of Planning and Zoning Mark Hudson reviewed economic development in a recent Noon Rotary speech. Six voluntary land annexations of over 50 acres each have grown Plant City. Thonotosassa Road is getting a new hotel. North of Interstate 4, the Northeast Master Plan is being implemented with the construction of large residential developments, Varrea and North Park Isles. Significant challenges which slowed the development of the city’s Midtown Plan have been overcome, and progress is once again being made in our critical downtown core.
But our focus has been not only on downtown and residential development. Increasing employment and being more than a bedroom community for Tampa and Polk County have been our largest goals. Commercial and industrial development in warehousing, distribution and manufacturing is well underway in Lakeside Station at Park Road and U.S. 92 and on Rice Road and County Line Road.
There is something missing in the economic conversation: religion. The website ChurchFinder.com lists 117 churches within the city limits of Plant City, where 36,087 people lived in 2013. For comparison, with a 2013 population of 25,179 the website listed 16 churches in Temple Terrace.
To see the role being played in economic development by Plant City’s strong religious values, you must look south. Running east and west, Trapnell Road crosses the main arteries of Collins Street and James L. Redman Parkway.
In the last two decades, several Plant City churches have built new campuses on Trapnell Road. These churches provided part of the impetus for more commercial development, such as restaurants, banks and health care, between Alexander Street and Trapnell Road.
But the biggest testimony to the importance of religious values in Plant City has yet to come. As development on James L. Redman Parkway inched southward, First Baptist Church of Plant City, our largest, made huge development plans for a new campus while serving an average of 1,400 people every Sunday at its downtown location. Those plans are in beginning stages of construction on 100-plus acres at the intersection of James L. Redman Parkway and Sparkman Road. Once completed, the campus will be a $20 million, 150,000-square-foot religious center.
As Hudson said, the goal of development on James L. Redman Parkway is to let people driving into Plant City from the south know they are entering a city. Imagine how a new and highly visible church campus will contribute to that goal.
Felix Haynes is a co-owner of the Plant City Times & Observer.