Planning, Planning, Planning

Sometimes I feel like a broken record with this “planning for our future” headline, but it underscores this critical point in time for Winter Haven. So many positives things are happening in and around our area with business expansion, business recruitment, increased visitation and more. In a recent blog post I mentioned a population study conducted by the Florida Chamber that explains that in the next 5 years we will see a population increase in Polk County of over 59,000 people and in the next 15 years we will see an increase of 165,000. With this increase in population comes the needs for schools, police officers, infrastructure improvements, traffic planning and protecting/improving our assets and the quality of life of Winter Havenites.

Over the last year the City of Winter Haven staff and Commissioners have been discussing the possibility of a $25 million bond to complete numerous projects. The initial list of projects came out of several sources  –  feedback and requests from the community over the last decade, the original visioning process in the early 2000′s, the Aspire Winter Haven visioning process of 2013, and facilities, arts and recreational assets that are at capacity for events, children’s sports, families, etc.

This week the city launched an online survey to get feedback from the community on some of the projects listed (closes April 10). This survey is unscientific, but is an opportunity for the public to give their opinion about the current list of projects, offer feedback on other projects they may be interested in and offer insight on how to pay for the bond debt service.

To add some additional clarification to the survey, the commissioners are currently considering two options: Increasing ad valorem (property tax) or a fire assessment fee. They also give you the opportunity to provide your own suggestions for an additional revenue stream.

The current ad valorem rate is 5.79 mills. To give you a frame of reference the following is what the adv valorem rates have been for the last decade:

6.99          2005

6.95          2006

6.90         2007

5.86         2008

5.79         2009-2015

For the current bond discussion, the city explains the increase this way, “While exact numbers will vary, in theory, a $25 Million Bond equates to 1.02 mills. For a home valued at $100,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption and a taxable value of $50,000, this would equate to about $50 per year (or about $1 a week) in ad valorem (property) taxes.”

The Fire Assessment fee is determined based on many factors and can be implemented using several different formulas. The City should be receiving a report from a consultant reviewing varying methods and the impact of those methods shortly to help determine the viability of such a method. What the Fire Assessment fee does do is broaden the base of revenue by allowing the fees to be applied to entities that are exempt from property tax. Until we see the results of the survey and become more familiar with the varying options, I am not comfortable summarizing any “lower or higher” cost with this compared to ad valorem increases. It could vary greatly both from individual homeowners to business owners.

As shared in an earlier post, it has been over a decade since the City made any large scale investments. Share your thoughts on this potential bond by clicking here to take the survey.


Posted in Political Scene | Leave a comment

Advocacy 2015

This week Winter Haven joined a regional delegation of representatives to visit our elected officials in Tallahassee. Session started on March 3 and our state representatives and senators have just 60 days to submit their bills, vote, pass between houses and repeat before sending to the Governor’s desk.

Each year during Polk County Day numerous interest groups, from municipalities to universities to chambers to private business to non-profits descend on the capital to meet with our elected delegation and discuss their to priorities.

This year was the second year that the Winter Haven Chamber joined forces with the Lakeland Chamber to meet with the delegation as a “regional” group. We worked together throughout the last couple of months, discussing our agendas being developed by our Government & Legislative Affairs (GA) committees, and on Tuesday presented to the delegation as a united voice on many issues. That doesn’t mean our agendas are identical. We both have local issues specific to our community, but there are many issues that span beyond city borders, and we wanted our delegation to know that we were on the same page when it came to issues affecting our business community and our members. (I’d be lying if this cross-county cooperation didn’t elicit a few jokes about “pigs flying somewhere”, which just makes me even more proud of the cooperation).  To view the legislative agenda developed by our GA committee, click here.

Adam Putnam & Regional Delegation

While in Tallahassee we were able to get an update on a recent study conducted by the research department at the Florida Chamber that focused on Florida residents and their priorities for this session.

The first question had to do with whether the respondents believe that the state is headed in the right or wrong direction. Of the respondents, 46 percent believe Florida is heading in the right direction, compared to 32 percent who say Florida is going in the wrong direction. In our specific media market (we are considered the Tampa media market) we are close to that at 48% right direction, 31% in the wrong direction.

Another question asked,What is the top issue you are concerned about?” Statewide, the leading issue is jobs (22 percent), followed by education (17 percent) and healthcare (8 percent). In our media market, we ranked those issues similarly. 

We also got some new data on Polk County form the Florida Chamber economic researchers on our projections for population and job growth. If these numbers don’t get you excited (and motivated to get our municipalities planning for the future) I don’t know what will. Think of this… Right now, 800-1,000 people move into Florida every day.

Right now the Polk County population is 636,056.

Within 5 years we are expected to be at 695, 128. An increase of 59,072.

And within 15 years we are expected to be at 801,555. An increase of 165,499 from where we are today.

Current unemployment in Polk County is at 6.1% We have 256, 315 people in the workforce.

If you take the projected population growth into consideration, in order to stay at the same level of unemployment we would need to create 31,707 net new jobs by 2020 and 70, 608 net new jobs by 2030.


Suffice it to say jobs are just one of the many things we need to think about with the projected growth in Florida. Another major topic of discussion this session is water. While meeting with Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, he posed the question (and I paraphrase), “How do we plan for the population growth and ensure we have enough water to meet that expanding population needs? While we are at a critical stage now, it’s important to plan before we hit a crisis stage.” The City of Winter Haven’s Natural Resource division has a sustainability plan, and so does the Southwest Florida Water Management District which is a plan called the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) that is the product of a 3-water management district partnership.

Healthcare is also a huge topic of debate. Shortly before session began, the state was looking at a surplus of over a billion dollars. Now, there is a possibility that the state budget for $2 billion in low income pool funding will be eliminated. According to an article in the Miami Herald, “[The Low Income Pool is a] $2 billion program which reimburses hospitals that treat large numbers of poor and uninsured patients [and it] is scheduled to expire on June 30. The state Agency for Health Care Administration is hoping to reach a deal with the federal government to keep the federal portion of the funding in place. [But] the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, has made it clear that the program will not continue without significant changes.”

If the Low Income Pool funding goes away, that would impact the entire state budget.


It was a successful trip in my mind, with productive discussions on items such as the Central Polk Parkway, Enterprise Zones and more.

The process doesn’t stop there. Conversations will continue. We still have hundreds if not a thousand more bills to go!


Posted in Advocacy, Political Scene | Leave a comment

Big News for Winter Haven High School

On Wednesday at the chamber’s Business Impact Breakfast: Focus on Education, Superintendent Katherine LeRoy made a big announcement – Winter Haven High School would be the first school in Polk County with Wall-to-Wall academies. This model is used in other school systems around the country, and while Polk County is already a leader in the state for our career academies, this is the first time the wall-to-wall concept will be used.

See the except from the News Chief below and click the link to read the full story:

Kathryn LeRoy2

Winter Haven High School: LeRoy Announces First ‘Wall-to-Wall’ Academies

Published: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 11:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 11:35 p.m.

WINTER HAVEN | Winter Haven High School is set to become Polk County’s first “Wall-to-Wall” academy.

POLK SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT KATHRYN LEROY discusses plans to make Winter Haven High School the county’s first “Wall-to-Wall” academy during the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday.


That means every student at the school — currently 1,881 — will be involved in a career academy.

Polk Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy spoke Wednesday morning at Polk State College to more than 100 people from the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.

When she announced Winter Haven High School would be the first “Wall-to-Wall” school, the applause was loud and long. 

LeRoy said the intent “is to turn Winter Haven High School into a national model.”

Each student must choose one of five career themes: finance, hospitality and tourism, information technology, health science, or engineering. There are a variety of vocations for each theme.

Students will be placed on teams with other students with like interests. LeRoy said students will be exposed to “a rigorous curriculum” to prepare for the world of work or college.

LeRoy said studies show that when high school students participate in such a program, they are more likely to become married or enter into long-term relationships and be custodial parents of their children. Students who otherwise are at risk of dropping out are more likely to graduate, she said.

Gina Williams, principal at WHHS, said t she loves the Wall-to-Wall concept and that it will work well at the school.

“It places students in an area of their choosing,” she said.

Williams said one of the biggest advantages of the new program is students working on teams.

Read the full story here. 

Posted in Education | 1 Comment

Craft Brewery Laying Roots Downtown

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 8.15.46 AMThe craft brew industry has skyrocketed over the last several years, especially in Central Florida. From the success of Cigar City Brewery in Tampa to the national recognition of craft brew bar Red Light, Red Light in Orlando, to the opening of Brew Hub in Lakeland, craft brews have found their place in Central Florida’s cultural landscape.

Now, Winter Haven may become a part of the mix. Today, Grove Roots Brewing Company, led by Winter Haven native Joseph Dunham, announced its plans to open Winter Haven’s first craft beer brewery. An excerpt from the official release is below:

Grove Roots will celebrate the city’s strong connection to the citrus industry and contribute to the cultural revitalization of Winter Haven’s downtown. With plans to restore one of the city’s historic industrial buildings, at a to-be-announced location, the 15-barrel brewhouse and tasting room is set to open in mid-2016.

Inspired by his Winter Haven heritage and a passion for homebrewing, Dunham traded his job at an industrial engineering and construction firm to start Grove Roots. Witnessing the slew of upcoming development projects in his hometown, Dunham knew that downtown Winter Haven was the right place to realize Grove Roots’ mission to revive the region’s historic citrus culture through inventive, hand-crafted beer. “After a decade of traveling in other cities and visiting breweries, we decided to come back to our roots in Winter Haven and build a business structured around our great city and its rich history in the citrus industry,” said Dunham. Grove Roots plans to provide cooperation opportunities with local providers to showcase their products in specialty brews.

The 5,200 square-foot space will feature an 80-seat tasting room, 15-barrel production area, indoor stage and outdoor covered seating. Patrons will be able to enjoy local music and a first-hand look at the brewing process as they sample artisanal ales and lagers. Initially, Grove Roots will offer four flagship beers, four seasonal beers and a variety of special-release beers throughout the year. Grove Roots will make its first community appearance on March 5th as the sponsor of downtown’s Craft Beer Crawl hosted by Main Street Winter Haven.

Posted in Commercial Developments, Commercial Renovations, Dining, Downtown, Main Street Winter Haven, Tourism | 1 Comment

Board Meeting generates a… new kitchen?

Many of us sit on boards – from not-for-profits to banks to churches to corporations. Many times those board meetings are about reviewing financials, recapping the past few months and setting strategy and goals for the next month or quarter.

logos_r4_c2Well chamber member A Ward Design is putting a whole new meaning behind a “productive” board meeting. On Friday, February 20 they will host the Cabinet Makers Association (CMA) board meeting that through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity will build an entire kitchen in one day for a local family in need.

Residential and commercial cabinetmakers and woodworkers from across the country will come together to make this day possible.  100% donated labor, 100% donated products and one fantastic group of talented individuals sharing their experience and knowledge to help another. They will start the day designing the kitchen with the help of KCD Software – specialized software to facilitate woodworkers, designers, builders and renovators of cabinetry. After touring the facility they will be broken up into teams to tackle the project. One kitchen. One day. One happy family.

The new kitchen will be installed in a Habitat for Humanity home here in Winter Haven for a single-mother and her son. I learned something new when  writing this story. The recipient of this home doesn’t just sign up one day and get a home. They are invested in the home. The beneficiary of this project enrolled in the Habitat program in 2013 and went through a very detailed qualifying process.  After qualification she has spent 20 hours per month helping to build other homes through Habitat.   She has attended classes on budgeting and preparing her for the future.  In addition, she will make a 20-year commitment to her mortgage that goes back to Habitat and helps funds other home projects.  The recipient has been involved in the building of her own home and learning how to properly maintain it. So not only is her dream coming true, but she will be helping others realize their dream. 

Kevin Ward, President and Eric Ward, Vice President of A Ward Design

Kevin Ward, President and Eric Ward, Vice President, of A Ward Design

A Ward Design has been a long standing member of the Cabinet Makers Association and Owner Kevin Ward is an educational speaker throughout the year. CMA members are not in competition with each other; in fact quite the opposite. They believe that working together is the best way to improve individual companies as well as the industry as a whole and what better way to share and learn but to build together.


Posted in Member News | 6 Comments

Winter Haven Hospital Announces $51 Million in Investment

Winter Haven Hospital has some big plans. Yesterday, Steve Nierman, President of Winter Haven Hospital (WHH), presented the plans for Phase 1 of a major expansion to the Winter Haven Economic Development Council, totaling a $51 million investment. Now that’s a big number, but it is just a portion of the investment WHH has made since they joined the Baycare Health System in 2013.  From renovations at Winter Haven Women’s Hospital (formerly the Regency), to investments in IT infrastructure, new imaging equipment and more, Baycare has projected another $23 million in investment.

Winter Haven Hospital has given us many reasons to be proud over its almost 90 year history, but the way the world receives medical care is drastically changing. The $51 million investment is a more than just a construction project. It is about preparing WHH for the healthcare challenges of today and of tomorrow; making them more efficient, more functional, more technologically advanced, more organized and most importantly, more equipped to deliver a quality patient-focused experience.

This transformation of Winter Haven Hospital focuses on the Emergency Department, the ICU and the Cath Labs.

Phase 1 consists of three main elements:

  1. Adding two additional parking decks to the current parking garage, adding roughly 200 spaces.
  2. Building a new two-story building located in front of the current Emergency Department that will be connected to the current hospital building. This new building will house a new Emergency Department on the first floor and a shell for future ICUs and Cath Labs on the second floor (Phase 2 proposal).
  3. The existing 22,700 square feet of the current Emergency Department will be renovated to provide a separate 12-bed psychiatric Emergency Department, a new 14-bed medical observation unit and a new central sterile processing department.

Here are few of the highlights of the many things Mr. Nierman reviewed:

WHH Architectural Renderings

The Parking Garage: 

While certainly not the most exciting of the announcements at its face value, this is a much needed start to make the other two items possible. The new two-story building will take up about 160 spaces currently located in front of the Emergency Department. The new Emergency Department will still have close parking for patients and visitors, but the additional 200 parking spaces in the garage will help off-set the decreased spaces, primarily for staff.

The New Two-Story Building

Emergency Department

Currently the Emergency Department has 33 beds, both for medical ER patients as well as psychiatric patients. The new Emergency Department will have 51 beds in private rooms for medical ER patients and the new psychiatric Emergency Department will have an additional 12 beds. That means the Emergency Department will have a total of 63 beds. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • This expansion will put WHH at the appropriate level of Emergency Department beds in comparison to their volume.
  • They will institute Direct Bedding which will allow patients to be placed in a room at a much quicker pace (Nierman mentioned another Baycare hospital that has instituted this method in which wait times from quick assessment at check-in to being placed in a room to be 7 minutes). This will also reduce the risk of patients leaving without treatment due to wait times.
  • The design of the new ER will be what Nierman called the “rack track” design in which the rooms will essentially be in a circle (or a square from this rendering) and will  be accessible from both sides with one entrance for medical staff from the central station in the center of surrounding rooms, and a different entrance for patients’ families who will enter from the outside hallway. This will increase efficiency, ease of patient monitoring and communication and privacy, among other benefits.
  • They will also be able to create a safer and more specialized environment with the physical separation of the medical Emergency Department patients and the psychiatric Emergency Department patients.

Medical Observation Unit

  • This new 14-bed MOU will be adjacent to the new Emergency Department and will improve processes for managing observation patients who require timely diagnostic testing.

Intensive Care Units

  • The proposed ICU units located on the second floor focus on optimizing the physician and patient experience. Each room size will be increased from 140 square feet with a 10 ft headwall to 200 square feet with a 13 ft headwall making it easier to bring in equipment for in-room emergency procedures.
  • Currently the ICU walls are curtains. The new proposed space will have actual walls from increased privacy.
  • Storage space will be drastically increased in the new space
  • The location above the new Emergency Department will decrease travel time between the ER and the ICU (currently the 4 ICUs are spread over the hospital)

New Cath Labs 

  • The location of the Cath labs will be optimized, being close the Emergency Department, the surgical suites and the ICUs.
  • New Cath labs will accommodate a future “Hybrid Lab” that allows surgical intervention, if needed
  • By moving the Cath labs to this new building, they will free up space in the current hospital for more inpatient private bed capacity.

This is just a glimpse at the $51 million investment. Phase two could be upwards of a $16 million investment.




Posted in Health Care | 1 Comment

Introducing the 2015 Outdoor Sculpture Competition Sculptures

The sculptures that will be placed in Winter Haven’s South, Central and Virginia Miller parks have been announced for the 2015 Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition. Every year, the Polk Museum of Art works with local cities to install new sculptures in downtown parks. This year, the cities of Winter Haven, Lakeland and Sebring are participating in the Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition. The sculptures will be installed in March and remain in the park until February 2016.

Sculptures are selected by a committee of community members and PMoA staff. An independent judge selects the Best of Show, Second Place and Honorable Mention awards, which are announced at the public celebrations planned by the cities (tentatively planned for the last week of April for Winter Haven). The City of Winter Haven is looking for companies or individuals that would like to sponsor a sculpture for the year. A plaque will be placed with the sculpture for the year. For more information please contact T. Michael Stavres ( or Travis Edwards (

Check out the photo gallery below and enlarge by clicking on the photo. Stay tuned for more information in the Central Park Stroll

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Leadership Through Transition and New Opportunity

Central Florida ILC Central Florida, and particularly Winter Haven, is at a point of transition to become the center of the infrastructure conversation. Winter Haven offers a protected and connected hub for the burgeoning transportation, logistics, manufacturing and technology industries. Our location, at the confluence of significant transportation and technology grids, has prepared the area to receive, produce and distribute goods and services regionally and internationally. We have heard for the last 6 years how the CSX Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center will be an economic driver for our entire community. But how do we know that and how do we capitalize upon it?

RendellWe know that because we can learn from many areas around the country that have experienced similar transitions into transportation, logistics, distribution and manufacturing hubs. One such area is Pennsylvania. With more than 34 years of public service, including 24 years as an elected official, Governor Edward G. Rendell led Philadelphia as mayor and Pennsylvania as Governor though times of transition and today continues to pursue many of the same issues he was passionate about while serving. Governor Rendell is a champion for America’s dire need to rebuild and reinvest in its infrastructure. He has also remained heavily involved in the campaign for government efficiency and strategic cost cutting through his work with entities such as Government Sourcing Solutions and Public Financial Management. Governor Rendell has been a resounding voice in the need for America to diversify, as well as to invest in its future. His consistent message spurred incredible development in Philadelphia and his investments and subsequent successes are highly visible in Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania.

Governor Rendell is also the Co-Chairman of Building America’s Future, an organization created with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger aimed at fostering renewed investment in our nation’s infrastructure.

We are at a pivotal point in Central Florida’s regional growth. Polk County has several key transportation focuses, one of which the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution on earlier this year (Central Polk Parkway). The Central Florida Partnership recently formed a Transportation Task Force to review key transportation priorities in their 7-county region (one of which is Polk, and we made sure there was Polk representation on the committee). Governor Rendell will offer unique insight into how Winter Haven, Polk County and Central Florida can capitalize on the multifaceted infrastructure investments in the area.

Join us on February 27, 2015 as the Winter Haven Economic Development Council and Envisors host the Leadership Connect Series.  Information on the event below:

WHERE:  The Ritz Theatre , 263 W Central Avenue, Winter Haven, Florida

WHAT:     Leadership Connect 2015- educational opportunity to connect business, government, and community leaders with the most advanced tools to properly invest in their communities.

WHEN:   Friday, February 27, 2015
8:30-9:00 AM- Registration and Networking
9:00 AM-11:00 AM- Seminar Presentations
11:30 AM-1:00 PM- Leadership Luncheon with Governor Ed Rendell

COST:     Leadership Connect Full Series (Seminar and Luncheon) $75.00
Leadership Connect Luncheon only $50.00

Tickets may be purchased through the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce




Posted in Chamber Events | 1 Comment

Demystifing LinkedIn for You and Your Business

This morning we had the privilege of listening to a fantastic presentation from Jarrett Smith, digital strategist at Clark/Nikdel/Powell, on how to use LinkedIn for your own professional development and business profit. This is one of those presentations that I wish every single chamber member could have heard as there were so many takeaways on what is arguably one of the most misunderstood and underused social platforms for business growth. So I wanted to make we were able to share the wealth of knowledge gained this morning.

1. Why LinkedIn Matters

  • User base – there are over 332 million people on LinkedIn with about half of those in the U.S. The users of this platform are more mature than Twitter/Facebook (average age 30-49) and over 20% have an annual income of $75k or more.
  • When the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed their members, 94% said they recruit off of LinkedIn.
  • LinkedIn profiles are indexed on Google which means you can be discovered through Google search if you have a LinkedIn profile.
  • LinkedIn is really the only platform where it is socially acceptably to do self-promotion and business promotion without annoying the heck out of your real-life friends i.e. the purpose of the platform is to promote yourself professionally and promote your business to other professionals. (shameless plug – follow the chamber on LinkedIn)

2. How Linkedin Works

  • It’s all about the connections. You have 1st degree connections – those are the people you are directly connected with. You have 2nd degree connections (think friend of friends) and then you have 3rd degree (friends of your friend’s friends). Those cumulatively make up your LinkedIn network. That means that when you search on LinkedIn or when people search for you, you are only seeing those results in your network. (Jarrett’s network is over $12 million people as displayed below). Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 1.25.46 PMScreen Shot 2015-02-04 at 1.25.54 PM
  • If you are looking for a job, it’s the place to be, but make sure your profile puts your best professional foot forward.  Use the expanded resume to do that with detailed descriptions of your projects, photos, videos, links to other websites that showcase your work, etc. Use the right “keywords” in your profile i.e. what words are people searching for that you hope they see you.
  • Connect to the heavy hitters in your area. Then those heavy hitters are connected to other heavy hitters. Be deliberate about circles of influence.
  • Accept connections from everyone, unless you think it is spam or sketchy in some way.

3. The Basics – the bare minimum you should be doing to make LinkedIn useful

  • Use a good headshot on your profile (no bathroom mirror selfies)
  • Use your real name
  • Include keywords in your profile
  • Fill out everything that LinkedIn asks you about that is relevant to you (i.e. all of those prompts they send you when you log in to your profile)
  • Give recommendations to your connections who deserve it
  • Connect with everyone you know in real life

4. Intermediate

  • Import your list of contacts from your email
  • Set your custom URL, put it in your email footer
  • Add Rich Media to your profile
  • Post to Pulse (the ‘newsfeed’ of LinkedIn, but only post relevant and thoughtful content)

The advanced methods discussed were very useful but require more in depth explanations (wish you were there now, huh?) If you want more on want Jarrett presented today, check out his presentation here or connect with him on LinkedIn.



Posted in Best Business Practices | Leave a comment

Digitech Graphics Group celebrates 25 years!


Congratulations to chamber member, Digitech Graphics Group, for celebrating 25 years in business. Digitech Graphics Group is a full service graphics company providing total business graphics solutions including graphic design, large format production, lamination, custom interior signs and wall graphics, wall murals, outdoor signs, banners, decals, fleet graphics, tradeshow and event graphics, tradeshow hardware and even a Christmas float.

Butch and Barbara Balingit started the company 25 years ago with an aim to make graphics with impact for clients across Central Florida. Since that time they have grown to a team of 11 and sustained many lifetime clients. For a look at some of their work, check out the gallery below (click on the photo to enlarge).

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