Planning Commission Approves Two New “Artisan” Businesses

Last month the City Commission approved an ordinance that would allow for artisan businesses to establish in the downtown area. This was previously prohibited in the downtown district as they were considered manufacturers (to over-simplify: taking raw materials and converting them into a finished product for sale). In the course of the last year there were several businesses looking to establish in the district that were unable to for this reason. Nationwide, these types of small businesses have been a key part in reinvigorating communities as retail destinations with the “handmade” or “made locally” appeal. Last night, two business covered under the new ordinance were approved by the planning commission: “Stitch On Central” and “Grove Roots Brewing Company.”

11391134_10205900032995411_2931521902239042318_nStitch on Central will be a boutique specializing in personalization of items using embroidery, vinyl and heat press.  The owner, Lauren Young, anticipates opening the new shop in September and is currently in discussions for the space at 347 West Central Ave, Suite 2 (a portion of the Central Park Square Building, i.e. the former People’s Furniture building being renovated by Six/Ten LLC). As a part of the artisan ordinance they are required to have a portion of the store for retail and a portion for the making of their wares.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 8.15.46 AMGrove Roots Brewing Company is one step closer to opening after last night’s vote (read the initial announcement here). The Planning Commission voted to allow the company’s entrepreneur, Joe Dunham, to move forward with the manufacturing side of his business. He will still need to come back closer to his opening date to apply for the bar/retail side of his business as that has to be done within so many days of moving forward with operation. He can now confidently move forward with the development of the microbrewery portion of his business. The proposed space for the microbrewery is the building across from Egg Haven on 3rd St known as the “utility trailer” building. (pardon the crude screenshot below from Google maps). Joe anticipates opening in late Spring 2016. Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 3.35.20 PM

Posted in Downtown, Economic Development, Main Street Winter Haven, Small Business Opportunity | 1 Comment

Film Festival Celebrating Polk Artists and Beyond

The Ritz Theatre announces the 2015 Ritz International Film Festival being held June 19-21.

Screenshot 2015-06-01 22.29.57

This will be the third time the Ritz has hosted a film festival and continues to grow the festival. This year they will be accepting films in the following categories: animation, children, family, documentary, independent, narratives, shorts and features.

Ritz Theatre Film Festival’s mission is the education, growth, and economic development of the film industry, with the intent to expose the arts to the community. This will be done through informing the public about the art of visual storytelling, enhancing opportunities for local filmmakers to develop their craft and art, and increasing the public’s awareness and support of local filmmaking as a cultural and economic asset. The Ritz Theatre Film Festival was created by volunteers desiring recognition of the film industry and talents of artists throughout Polk County and the State of Florida. The festival will be based at The Ritz Theatre, 263 West Central Avenue, Winter Haven, Florida. According to Stella Heath, the volunteer Executive Director for The Ritz Theatre, they have received film submissions from not just Polk and Florida, but from around the country and a few from other countries.

Ticket Prices:
Day Pass $20.00
Two Day Pass $35.00
VIP Pass $75.00*
*Includes All Days of Films and Exclusive VIP Cocktail Party
VIP Party $40.00
Student Day Pass $5.00
Senior Day Pass $5.00
Individual Film $8.00

To purchase tickets visit Ritz International Film Festival.


Friday – June 19

9:00 am  – 11:00 am : Children, Family Friendly

11:15 am – 11:25 am : Distant Touch

11:30 am – 12:00 pm : Butterfly Dreams

12:00 pm – 1pm  Break for Lunch
1:00 pm – 2:20 pm : 3,000

2:30 pm – 3:30 pm : Sum Total of our Memory

3:30 pm – 3:50 pm : Violated

3:50 pm – 5:00 pm : Punjab

6:00 pm – 7:00 pm : 60 & Strong

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm : After Hours at Jesse’s


Saturday – June 20

9:00 am – 10:30 am : Wildelike

10:30 am – 11:45 am : 3 Summits

11:45 am – 12:19 pm : Go Mickey Go

12:19 pm – 1:15 pm : Lunch Break

1:00 pm – 2:15 pm : IBUR Connection

2:15 pm – 2:30 pm : KlauS

2:30 pm – 3:45 pm : Abstraction

3:45 pm – 4:30 pm : Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood Feature /Documentary

4: 30 pm – 5: 00 pm Short Film Block including Princess KiKi, The Shed, Updike, Lilly

5:00 pm – 5:30 pm : Winter Haven High School films

5:30 pm – 6:00 pm : Hidden Heart

6:15 pm – 8:00 pm : Easy to Love

8:00 pm – 10:00 pm : VIP Reception at The Ritz Theatre

10:00 PM – After Hours at Fire Restaurant


Sunday – June 21

Extra Day, if needed for technical

Posted in Cultural Arts | Leave a comment

2015 Banker’s Cup Citizens of the Year

Congratulations to the two recipients of the 2015 Banker’s Cup Citizens of the Year, Mrs. Audrey Nettlow and Mr. Bob Gernert. Read more about their many contributions to the Winter Haven community below.


2015 Woman of the Year: Mrs. Audrey Nettlow

IMG_7876The 2015 Banker’s Cup Woman of the Year avoids the spotlight as much as possible. She believes that everything that she does on this earth should be in service to others and to God and she never seeks nor accepts praise or applause. And perhaps that humbleness is why so many of her nominators reflect in awe of the work she has done for the Winter Haven community and believe, while she deflects praise to others, she is a perfect example of a Banker’s Cup Citizen of the Year winner. One nominator noted, “She is the kind of person who spends every day looking for ways to help others and to make a difference.”

Audrey teaches Sunday school.

Audrey serves as a Guardian Ad Litem.

Audrey has been a guide dog trainer for the Southern Guide Dogs Association.

But Audrey is certainly known best in our community for the work she has done for our educational system. When her children began attending Winter Haven High School, she became very engaged with the school as a volunteer and saw first hand the needs that the school had, both for students and for faculty and staff. She founded the Winter Haven High School Academic Booster Club, which provides needed funding through grants to teachers and staff for educational resources and materials. She also chaired the Winter Haven High School Blue Devil Angels, a parent group that encourages and motivates school faculty. One nominator noted that tonight’s winner was, by far, the most involved parent in the school and ­no group or individual has ever met her level of service and commitment. And for that she was named Winter Haven High School’s Volunteer of the Year in 2011.

But her dedication to Winter Haven’s public school system success did not end with the graduation of her own children. In 2010, she became engaged in a new community movement spearheaded by Doug Lockwood called the Winter Haven Public Education Partnership. This group, that many of you are familiar with, is a non-profit committed to assuring that Winter Haven’s schools are unequaled in quality, relevance, and student performance. PEP seeks to improve its schools through advocacy, community engagement, and collaborative partnerships. When Doug approached her to serve as the unpaid, volunteer executive director of PEP, she stepped up willingly. It is through her dedication to this organization that Winter Haven has become a driving force for educational support, advocacy and reform in our county. As a direct result of her leadership, PEP has already had a significant impact on education in Winter Haven.

Audrey was the driving force behind the PEP Tutoring Center in Florence Villa. Through partnerships created with local businesses and the City of Winter Haven, she planned and organized the renovation of the old Police Athletic League building on Ave R NE and she and other volunteers tutor over 60 students after school. In addition to the after school program, last summer, and again this coming summer, the PEP Tutoring Center will host 40+ four-year olds through the Camp Ready program – a partnership with the Learning Resource Center and the United Way of Central Florida.

In addition to these many things, Audrey has also been instrumental in the PEP initiative, Career Connection, which has already matched over 200 high school students with people working in a career that interests them. She also organized the Winter Haven Lakes Festival as a fundraiser for the Public Education Partnership and was instrumental in advocating for Winter Haven High School to be able to offer the Cambridge Program – an academically focused program internationally recognized by colleges and universities around the globe. This program will start at Winter Haven High School this fall.

2015 Man of the Year: Mr. Bob Gernert 

IMG_9339 - Version 2The 2015 Banker’s Cup Man of the Year is no stranger to anyone in Winter Haven’s business community. This longtime resident has dedicated the majority of his life to serving Winter Haven in many different capacities, both in single acts of service and through movements that have and will continue to frame the future of our community.

American philosopher and historian George Kennan once said , “Without a generation of civilized people to study history, to preserve its records, to absorb its lessons and relate them to its own problems, history, too, would lose its meaning.”

Similarly, the preamble to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 declares that the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in it’s historic heritage and that those foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.

Realizing a need to preserve the history of our beloved Winter Haven, Bob served as a founder and president of an organization entitled “Historic Winter Haven.” Through this he assembled a group of local citizens who had similar interests in preserving the history of the community. After collecting artifacts for the past 15 years (many of which accumulated in his home/garage and let’s not even mention what happened with the arrival of eBay) Bob worked to facilitate an agreement between the City of Winter Haven and the Winter Haven Woman’s Club to transform the historic building on Lake Howard into the “Museum of Winter Haven History.” What some may not know is that he had taken care of the building for years prior to this to assist the club, often times seen painting, repairing and cleaning the historic gem. Bob now spends most of his Saturday mornings volunteering at the museum and enjoys listening, learning and teaching those who visit.

In addition to preserving the artifacts of our past, Bob lead the efforts (time and time again) to save one of our county’s most beautiful assets – Cypress Gardens. As we well know, the gardens went through some troubling times at the turn of the millennium, including several ownership changes and the threat of commercial and residential development. Bob was instrumental in organizing efforts to mobilize concerned citizens and in 2003 successfully negotiated an agreement with the Trust for Public Land to purchase Cypress Gardens with the goal of long-term protection of this treasured historic attraction. In 2014, with Bob’s assistance and advocacy, Cypress Gardens was added to the National Register of Historic Places and we are lucky to have faithful stewards of that property in LEGOLAND Florida Resort. Bob has held several “history of the gardens” talks at LEGOLAND to introduces a next generation to it’s illustrious past.

In addition to Winter Haven’s history, Bob has been dedicated to preserving all of Polk County’s history. In 2009 when the funding for the Polk County Historical Museum and Genealogical Library was threatened, he was appointed as chairman to a 12-member taskforce to take suggestions to the county commission on how to keep the museum open. The task force came up with 6- recommendation to help the museum overcome budget shortfalls and the operation is still viable today.

From serving as the Executive Director of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce for 18 years, to winning numerous awards in the field of Public Relations, to serving on the boards of numerous non-profits, to being recognized as a Distinguished Alumni at Polk State College, Bob has made an indelible impact on Winter Haven and he wants to ensure that while we celebrate and enjoy our thriving community today, we shall never forget the people, events, businesses and places that have woven the fabric of this place we call home.


Thank you to the event sponsors: 

Sponsors Poster

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Arts Incubator Coming to Winter Haven

A new arts incubator is coming to downtown Winter Haven through a partnership with four Chamber members: Polk State College, Polk Museum of Art, Six/Ten LLC and the Arts Ensemble Education Foundation.

Official Press Release: 

Arts Incubator: New Arts Ensemble Outer Space Gallery Opening Soon

Winter Haven, Fla. — The Arts Ensemble Education Foundation is bringing a new arts center to downtown Winter Haven. The Outer Space Gallery, an arts incubator, is a partnership between artists and local businesses, nonprofits and government to bring a new form of art to the area. The project will open in late May/early June.

Local developer Six/Ten LLC worked with the Arts Ensemble to make space available in a building downtown for the project, which will be located at 230 Avenue C S.W. The Polk Museum of Art has also partnered to identify and feature local artists in exhibitions, provide opportunities for Polk State College students to learn about organizing and hanging exhibitions, and provide learning opportunities when the Museum has visiting guest artists.

An arts incubator is a space for artist residencies, arts education, community-based arts projects as well as exhibitions, performances, and talks. The Outer Space Gallery will serve as a fine arts gallery for the community and a place for artists to display their work. The space will offer three very specific purposes in the community: Gallery, Working Studio and Professional Meeting Space for downtown agencies in need of a creative place to think. It will also be open to the public during the day for art viewings.

“We started developing this concept for downtown Winter Haven about a year and half ago, discussing the best possible projects. Thanks to Six/Ten, we are finally able to move forward with our vision,” said Jane Waters Thomas, Executive Director of the Arts Ensemble. “Our goal is to create a completely engageable art experience for Winter Haven.”

Polk State College has also partnered with this project to create an internship program to develop young artists. Students from the college’s art department who participate will receive the full experience of the business of art, including what it takes to develop and curate a show.

The Arts Ensemble is a community-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire interest and maximum participation in the arts in Polk County and the surrounding region. The program became an arts incubator in 2006 and the Outer Space Gallery will be the newest division of these efforts.

“While my work is often in areas of our community in need of revitalization, it is there that I find those that most need the arts,” said Thomas. “Through our wonderful partners at local colleges and universities we are able to mentor, love and teach these young people the importance of taking their skills to the next level. Outer Space will make possible mentorship and programming that supports these initiatives.”

Thomas added that the Arts Ensemble will continue to be an organization that supports future entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations, municipalities and artists by helping them to enter the creative industries sector. “We look forward to working with membership-based art organizations and affiliate nonprofit arts agencies throughout our community as we develop programs within the arts incubator,” said Thomas.

The mission of the Polk Museum of Art is to enhance the lives of its varied communities by bringing people and art together. One of the Museum’s strategic goals is to broaden their reach by forging strategic partnerships.

Polk Museum of Art Executive Director Claire Orologas had long been looking for a way to partner with the Arts Ensemble and Thomas, and believes the Outer Space Gallery will provide the perfect framework for a partnership to finally take shape. The museum has been increasing its presence on the east side of Polk County including a summer art camp in Winter Haven, an exhibition currently at the Polk State College Lake Wales Art Center, and family programs at the libraries throughout the county. Additionally, the museum organizes the Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition (FLOSC) every year in partnership with the City of Winter Haven.

Posted in Cultural Arts | Leave a comment

Internationally Renowned Academic Program coming to WHHS

For several years (and maybe even before I became engaged in the local education discussion) parents, the business community and those in education advocacy and support groups have been discussing the expansion of academic programming at Winter Haven High School. At the Business Impact Breakfast: Focus on Education Breakfast in March Superintendent LeRoy announced that Winter Haven High School would be the first high school in the county with wall-to-wall academies. Today they have announced another prestigious academically focused program that will  be offered – the Cambridge International School. See the press release below.

(To note, the Winter Haven Public Education Partnership is looking for businesses to support this program. If you would like to support the implementation of this program contact WHPEP.)

Winter Haven High School joins global community of Cambridge schools

Winter Haven High School has been awarded Cambridge International School status by Cambridge International Examinations and is now approved to offer Cambridge programs and qualifications, including Cambridge IGCSE, AS and A level.

Michael O’Sullivan, Chief Executive of Cambridge International Examinations, said: “We are delighted to announce that Winter Haven High School has joined our global community of Cambridge schools. We look forward to a long and productive relationship which will be of great benefit to learners throughout the region.”

Cambridge programs and qualifications are recognized and valued by universities and employers around the world. Cambridge helps schools deliver the best education possible by providing comprehensive support, including teacher training, classroom resources and membership of a global learning community. Cambridge International Examinations prepares school students for life, helping them develop an informed curiosity and a lasting passion for learning. The program is a part of the Cambridge Assessment, a department of the University of Cambridge. To learn more visit

Cambridge programs and qualifications are taught in more than 10,000 schools in over 160 countries.

Kathryn LeRoy, Superintendent of Polk County Schools said: “Students have a natural curiosity and passion for learning. Cambridge’s advanced curriculum offers students a chance to explore challenging and interesting topics, which further fuels their desire to learn and strive toward academic success.”

Gina Williams, Winter Haven High School Principal said: “We are very excited about this opportunity for our students. The Cambridge program allows students to make choices about their learning experiences and to develop a global perspective on diverse topics. We are appreciative of our community support. Donations have been given to us by the Public Education Partnership and Winter Haven High School’s Academic Booster Club to make this vision a reality. Furthermore, Superintendent LeRoy and her staff have assisted us in this process by approving our offering of an advanced curriculum.”

Doug Lockwood, President of the Public Education Partnership said: “The entire community is very excited about an advanced curriculum program which will enhance the educational opportunities of the students in the greater Winter Haven area. Community members have helped us in raising money for this program and the efforts still continue. If you would like to help us in this endeavor, please donate money to the Polk Education Foundation under the name of Winter Haven High School Cambridge.”


There will be a parent informational meeting at Winter Haven High School in the cafeteria on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 from 6:00pm – 7:00 p.m. 



On an editorial note, I have watched over the last year as the school leadership, teachers and business/community advocates have worked tirelessly to make this a reality and I commend you all.

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

Residential Real Estate Trends in Florida/Polk County

Recently, stats have come out about the status of the Florida real estate market. The following information was published through the Florida Market Reports through Florida Realtors and provided to us by the  chamber member MidFlorida Real Estate Sales and the East Polk County Association of Realtors.


The State of Florida and Polk County’s Real Estate Market in 2015

With an increase in listings, closed sales sold and a sales price higher than the average price listed in the last two months of 2014, the trend in the Florida housing market is poised for continued growth in 2015.

Outlook for the State                        

Historically, quarter one yields lower numbers in total property sold, but so far 2015 is starting off stronger than last year. Closed sales of Single Family Homes experienced an impressive 8.1% growth in numbers between 2013 and 2014. This is one key indicator of the upward trend in the housing market. January 2015 has already experienced a 10% increase compared to January 2014’s 4.5 percent results, showing that market performance so far is encouraging, and a sure sign of a strong path to a recovering economy.

New listings for single-family homes in January totaled 35,640 units, a 7.9 percent increase over last year. The median and average sales prices saw increases of 7.4 and 6.6 percent respectively compared to last year. The median price ($175,000 in January) shows that half of single-family homes sold for more than that amount, while half sold for less.

While the numbers for closed sales of condos is down 1.7 percent from last year, the median and average saw respectable increases of 5.4 and 3.2 percent respectively. Fewer condos were purchased this past month, but were bought for overall higher prices than this time last year.

 Local Outlook

Meanwhile at the local level, the numbers are just as promising for Polk County. From January to February there was a 12% increase in the number of units sold, with fewer average days on the market; properties are selling faster. On the state level, Polk County accounted for 6.7 percent of property sold and 4.36 percent of the total sales. In February the median price of property was $119,000, a 7% increase from the previous month. Similarly, the average price of property sold rose to $128,822, a 3.6% increase from last month.

With overall positive stats across the board, it shows that Polk County is following the trend of the state: a gradual and steady increase resulting in a healthier real estate market.


Posted in Real Estate | Leave a comment

Protecting Access to Higher Education

Update as of 4-17-2015:

In today’s Ledger you may have seen an article about it (
While Senate Bill 1252 does appear to have stalled, there is still a possibility that Senator Negron will attempt to get these provisions, or some version, in during the last few weeks of session.
Polk State has provided a statement to give us an update on where it stands today, in their opinion. It is very important to them, and to the chamber, that the people of our community know that we are all working (and many of you are to0) on trying to ensure a solution is reached. Our Polk County Legislative delegation is very aware of this issue and is supportive of the College.


For the past few weeks, the Council of Presidents (COP), comprised of the 28 presidents of the Florida College System, has attempted to negotiate with Senator Joe Negron, the legislator who filed the amendment to Senate Bill 1252 which resulted in a cap on enrollment for baccalaureate degrees at state colleges and changes to 17 college names.  While SB 1252 has stalled, COP acknowledged Senator Negron’s concerns and worked diligently to address them.COP believes it has come to consensus on a number of deal points; however, nothing will be finalized until the bill language is reviewed and approved by the COP.  Moreover, nothing will be final until the legislation passes through both the House and Senate.Thursday afternoon, Senator Negron’s office released a statement which proclaimed that a “partnership agreement” had been reached with the Florida College System.  This was premature, as the COP has not been provided with the finalized bill language for review and approval.In addition, Senator Negron’s press release did not mention a number of critical deal points that the COP had agreed to in concept and that would allow Polk State College to maintain and grow baccalaureate enrollment to serve the needs of the community.  These deal points include:·         No name change for any individual colleges – Polk State College will be allowed to keep our name that was selected by our residents, students, staff and community.

·         Baccalaureate Cap and a “Sunset” – Schools with more than 10 percent of total enrollment in their bachelor’s programs may grow enrollment an additional five percent. Those with below 10 percent may grow enrollment an additional seven percent.  The bachelor’s program cap will end after three years. Colleges will have no cap on the growth of their bachelor’s program enrollment after that time.  This will allow Polk State College the opportunity to continue to serve our community with much-needed programs in the short term, and allow us more freedom to grow in the long term.

·         More Rigorous Baccalaureate Review – Notices to the Department of Education to start a new bachelor’s program are extended from 100 days to 120 days, and the State University System and Independent Colleges and Universities will have 90 days to review proposals.  This additional time does not prevent Polk State from being responsive to community needs.

·         Additional Review – Colleges will require one third-party review of the need for a new bachelor’s program.  Polk State College has only entertained bachelor’s degree programs where there is a clear need.

This is a complicated issue that has immense ramifications for Polk State College and the Florida College System as a whole.  We believe that it is important to have a clear understanding of any agreement before making a final decision – especially one that affects our entire county.

We will continue to work on a positive resolution and to vigorously defend your state college as Polk County’s open-access, affordable option for higher education.  We are hopeful that our elected officials will allow the state’s public colleges to continue doing great work on behalf of our students.


Update as of 4-14-15:

Recently, our membership responded swiftly to a Call to Action to oppose Senate Bill 1252 and protect access to higher education in our community. Your voices were heard, but it still requires vigilance. After our Call to Action, our Senator, Kelli Stargel, filed amendments to address many of the concerns the Polk County community raised but they have not been adopted as of the time of this post. This bill was scheduled for discussion at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education last Wednesday, 4/8, but was tabled as Senator Stargel was held up at another committee meeting (this is a very typical situation during this time period in legislative session). It is unclear when or if it will be discussed next. With that being said, it is important that we keep our eye on where this bill or conversation goes from here.

Polk State College has provided the Chamber with the following update, which I think summarizes many of the important nuances and discussions that surround this important issue. See below.


Senate Bill 1252 was to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on April 8.  It was to be the second committee stop for the bill which was sponsored by Senator Kelli Stargel and later amended by Senator Joe Negron.  The bill was temporarily postponed because Senator Stargel was detained while presenting to another committee – something unfortunate, but not unusual, at this very busy stage in the legislative process.  Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chairman Don Gaetz chose to temporarily postpone the bill after hearing that several senators had questions and concerns about the bill.  We believe that your advocacy efforts on behalf of Polk State College, in concert with the efforts of other Florida College System supporters throughout the state, had a significant impact on halting this bill’s momentum.  While SB 1252 has stalled, the issue of an assault on the mission of the state college system still remains.

 Thank you for your continued advocacy for your state college and for Polk County.   We remain steadfast in our commitment to Polk State College’s mission to provide affordable, accessible higher education for our community.  We will, with your help, continue to provide a highly trained workforce to the employers of Polk County.  We do think that it is important to continue to reinforce critical components of our mission, including:

  • There is no “Mission Creep”: Polk State College provides affordable, accessible higher education to Polk County’s citizens.  We provide a supportive educational environment for our large proportion of first-generation-in-college students, and work closely with local businesses and industries to be responsive to workforce needs.  90% percent of our total full-time equivalent enrollment are pursuing associate’s degrees which are, and will continue to be, our primary business.  We provide bachelor’s degrees in direct response to community need – when there isn’t an affordable, accessible, alternate provider.  This remains a small, but vital, part of our education and training offerings.
  • We are a critical player in boosting educational attainment in Polk County: Polk County lags way behind the state and nation when it comes to bachelor’s degree attainment, with only 18.1% of our residents holding a four-year degree or higher, compared to 26.4% in Florida and 30% in the U.S.  Polk State College plays a major role in improving this statistic.  Our upper-division students are not your “typical undergrads.” On average, they are 33 years old. More than 95% live right here in Polk County, and approximately 40% work full time. The vast majority of these students are participating in a 2+2 arrangement with Polk State, having already completed their associate’s degrees with us. Our baccalaureate students are breadwinners and heads of households. They are place-bound by work, family and other circumstances and very often Polk State is their only convenient, accessible, affordable option for completing a bachelor’s degree.
  • We are critical players in Polk County’s economic success: The state does not place limits on our community’s economic development efforts, therefore it should not place limits on Polk State College’s ability to support those efforts. Employers think in terms of days and weeks, and rely on Polk State to quickly respond to workforce needs. By instituting lengthy approval processes or arbitrary restrictions on enrollment, lawmakers would take away Polk State’s flexibility in responding to employers’ needs and would negatively affect Polk County’s economic growth.

For 50 years, Polk State College has served, exclusively and proudly, the people of Polk County. Our sole mission has been to offer the education that our students, our industry partners and our community need.  We will continue to vigorously promote and protect our mission of access and affordability.  Polk State College and Polk County are inextricably connected, with the success of our institution heavily dependent upon the success of our citizens and businesses.  We are, and always will be, your state college.

We urge you to continue to oppose any legislation that would adversely affect Polk State’s core mission to provide affordable, accessible higher education for Polk County and its citizens.





Posted in Advocacy | Leave a comment

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.


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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!


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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. 

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