Groover Exterminating, Inc. Turns 50!

Recently, Amanda Jo and I got the chance to visit with the entire team at Groover Exterminating, Inc. “Team” is probably too corporate of a word as it truly seemed like we were visiting a family.

John A.and James Groover featured in the paper for starting their business.

John A.and James Groover featured in the paper Feb. 2, 1964, for starting their business.

Over 50 years ago, Groover Exterminating was started by John A. Groover and his wife Annette, along John’s father, James Groover (pictured left). They opened up shop on Dundee Road, where the business still stands today, albeit in a newer building.

Original Groover Exterminating office, located in the same location on Dundee Road that the current office sits today.

Original Groover Exterminating office, located in the same location on Dundee Road that the current office sits today.

While John A. and Annette are still involved in the business today, the reins have been passed to their son John “Desi” Groover, Certified Pest Control Officer, and his wife Debbie, the Chief Financial Officer, who now own the business. Other team members include Sal Marchese, Service Manager, Tony Self and Dorsey Branch, service technicians and Mark Jone, Office Manager. Help us congratulate them on 50 years of service to this community!

The team at Groover Exterminating

The team at Groover Exterminating

Debbie, Desi, John and Annette Groover

Debbie, Desi, John and Annette Groover

With a slogan of “The Bug Stops Here” they offer pest management with the integrity that has been passed down through three generations.

Services include:

  • General household pest control
  • In the wall pest control
  • Boracore termite prevention
  • Termite bait stations installed and monitored
  • Dry wood terminate prevention/control
  • Rodent control
  • Flea & tick control
  • Spider prevention
  • Bed bug treatment
  • Automist mosquito control
  • Commercial pest control
  • Restaurant pest control
  • Lawn and ornamental pest control
  • Lawn and ornamental fertilization
  • Soil testing
Posted in Member News, Success Stories | 2 Comments

Past President and Banker’s Cup Winner Judy Cleaves Retires

Published: Sunday, October 12, 2014 at 9:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 12, 2014 at 9:42 p.m.

WINTER HAVEN | In the business of selling houses, Judy Cleaves has long been a household name.

The owner of Winter Haven-based Judy B. Cleaves Properties officially retired this month, bringing an end to a 35-year career in real estate.

“I’ve been saying I want to stop while I’m ahead and I feel good and can enjoy life,” said Cleaves, 74. “I don’t want someone tapping me on the shoulder saying, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that anymore.’ “

There is still a full itinerary ahead: time with grandchildren, games of bridge and trips to Sarasota, where Cleaves has been a devoted admirer of the local arts scene.

And this isn’t the last you’ll hear of her name. An associate, Carol Sheil, has purchased the real estate business and will continue to operate it as Judy B. Cleaves Properties. Cleaves herself will remain among the six agents on the firm’s roster — “just in case,” she says with a laugh.

“I’m not going anywhere, I’m just not going to be working so hard.”

Looking back, Cleaves said her career began as a way to prove something to herself.

A native of Savannah, Ga., and valedictorian of her high school, she moved to Winter Haven with her parents in 1957.

Going off to college was not an expectation of the young women of Cleaves’ generation, she said. She spent a year at the University of Florida anyway, before getting married and starting a family with three children.

In the late 1970s Cleaves found herself in need of a job, and she got into home sales when a local agent suggested she would be good at it.

She spent nine years with a company in Winter Haven before establishing her own firm in 1989. At the time, Cleaves knew of only a small handful of female Realtors in the area who had done the same.

“I think one of the reasons I worked so hard was to prove to myself that I could succeed even though I didn’t have the opportunity to finish college,” she said. “I did self-educate. I took classes for the management of the company. I owe a lot of my success to that.”

Longtime friend Bonnie Parker said she admires Cleaves for her acumen and drive.

“She has a way of having that Savannah charm that makes her seem understated, but I can assure you she is highly intelligent. She’s well-traveled, cultured, and well-read,” said Parker, a senior vice president with Citizens Bank and Trust in Winter Haven. “She’s been a good role model for me as a businesswoman.”

In a momentous step during the business’ early days, Cleaves hired Chris Nikdel — now the CEO and art director of Winter Haven’s Clark/Nikdel/Powell — to design a logo.

She developed with a little orange house surrounded by two green trees, which is still in use today.

Cleaves had the logo emblazoned on contact paper and used it to adorn the mailboxes of her homes for sale.

“People loved them, they loved them. They were cute, they looked friendly,” she said. “That helped get me going. It was good promotion.”

She also raised her profile by getting involved in the community.

Cleaves has served as president of Winter Haven’s Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, and has been involved with organizations including Girls Inc. and the Polk Museum of Art.

“Winter Haven is a very special community,” she said. “If you support them, they’ll support you, and I’ve had huge support from the community.”

She also has served in multiple leadership roles with the East Polk County Association of Realtors, and was named Realtor of the Year in 1994.

When Cleaves announced her

retirement to her firm’s associates in June, Sheil scrambled to obtain her broker’s license and purchase the business.

“Judy has such a spectacular reputation throughout the community, and has been so involved that it just made sense to keep the name,” said Sheil, who has worked in real estate for about 15 years after a previous career in nursing and health care. “It’s carrying on a tradition of integrity and good service.”

The business has relocated from Central Avenue to an office at 131 Fifth Street NW, facing the park in downtown Winter Haven.

There are no other changes to the business planned for the near future.

“I can still do referrals and consult. I can be around if they need me,” Cleaves said. “I love people and I enjoy the real estate business; I totally invested myself in it … it’s been a wonderful life for me.”

[ Kyle Kennedy can be reached at or 863-802-7584. ]

Posted in Real Estate | 3 Comments

Celebration of Winter Haven 2013-2014

Feeling Good

This past Tuesday the Chamber held the 2014 Annual Meeting and the theme was It’s a New Dawn… It’s a New Day… It’s a New Life… And We’re Feeling Good! And after taking a look back at everything that has happened in the last year, we certainly have reasons to feel good!

It was a night of celebration as outgoing Chairman of the Board, Mr. Steve Crisman with Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP, reflected upon his tenure as chairman. He remarked that “I don’t think that anyone can argue that there is a new energy to Winter Haven. Over the last year we have had some major milestones to celebrate.” He went on to describe the opening of the CSX Central Florida ILC, the “launch” of Florida Polytechnic University, the opening of Polk State’s Advanced Technology Center and the groundbreaking of their college of Public Safety, the sale of the land adjacent to the ILC for development, the opening of the Winter Haven Public Education Partnerships Education Center and the expansions at LEGOLAND Florida including the Florida Pool and Oriental Gardens, Duplo Valley and the groundbreaking and construction of the LEGOLAND Hotel, opening in Summer 2015. And while large-scale additions are important to our economy, there were many small businesses who also made their mark on the year. From dozens of ribbon cuttings, capital investments and new building construction, to those entrepreneurs who have taken the risks and opened their own business – this year was a year of growth.

All in all there were many things to celebrate. A few honors were bestowed as well.

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Ruth Hooper & Steve Crisman

The Chamber inducted a new Presidential Ambassador, Mrs. Ruth Hooper with All About Time Clock Shop. Our Chamber Ambassadors are a dedicated team who work tirelessly to help our members feel WELCOME and VALUED. We currently have 17 Ambassadors that give a great deal of their personal time for the good of the Chamber. Five  years ago our Ambassadors helped to create a program to recognize exceptional dedication and commitment to the role. The ones who meet these criteria are our Presidential Ambassadors. This year Ruth was added to the 7 other Presidential Ambassadors.

Mike Potthast

Katie Worthington, Mike Potthast & Steve Crisman

The Leadership Winter Haven Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes an individual who has carried through the lessons learned and knowledge gained throughout their time in Leadership Winter Haven into their career and community life. This year’s winner has done that – most notably in this case how one individual can impact the portrait of our community. Mike Potthast began working in his father’s studio at the age of 5, learning how to process film in the darkroom. Since that time, he has loved the art of photography and has spent his adult life documenting the beauty and authenticity of Winter Haven and beyond through his small business, Potthast Studios. Over the years the business has grown and Mike has certainly captured some memorable moments – from Sheriff Grady Judd and his deputies dressed like the Wild West, to local citizens staged for recreation of favorite movie posters, to an annual nativity photo layout that adorns his studio windows on Central Avenue each year, to the most intimate of family moments – a new born or a blushing bride. His business has grown over the years, and besides personal portraits, he has become a go-to photographer for many corporations seeking business photography, headshots and videography.

2014 Winner, Nikki Smith, ASAP and 2013 Winner Dr. Mitsie Vargas with Orchid Springs Animal Hospital.

2014 Winner, Nikki Smith, ASAP and 2013 Winner Dr. Mitsie Vargas with Orchid Springs Animal Hospital.

The Industry Award for a company with less than 100 employees went to ASAP Advertising Solutions and Printing. For over 13 years, ASAP has been making companies look good. From designing unique printed materials to coming up with creative marketing solutions, ASAP Advertising Solutions and Printing, strives to establish tightly knit relationships built on trust, innovative ideas and helping their clients reach a maximum audience for the best price.

A company of only 8 employees, ASAP operates under the philosophy that being strategic and consistent quality and service is what allows them to have grown over the years. During the last 5 years, they have invested over a half million dollars in equipment and facilities to ensure they are staying at the cutting edge of their industry. Just recently they acquired a printer that allows them to print on many different kinds of materials including PVC, magnets, window clings, bad stuffers, signs, posters and so much more, all at lightening speeds, allowing for faster turn around for their clients. They also believe in giving back and allow each employee to take up to a week, fully compensated, for community outreach, mission trips or other charitable acts of service.

2014 Winner Oliver Pietri, The Results Companies and 2013 Winner Peter DeVito with Brown International

2014 Winner Oliver Pietri, The Results Companies and 2013 Winner Peter DeVito with Brown International

The Industry Award for a company with more than 100 employees went to The Results Companies. Located at 5300 Recker Highway, The Results Companies moved into Winter Haven in 2010 and began running their facility with 250 employees offering a premier global customer experience through their uniquely designed, built, operated and award-winning call centers. Their services range from customer service, acquisition, enrollment, retention, member support services, transaction processing and outbound sales.

Over the last four years, The Results Companies have invested in both their facility and their workforce. They recently held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the renovation of their building and received a visit from Florida Governor Rick Scott who recognized them for their investment in creating jobs for our community. Now at 350 employees and looking to add another 100 employees by the end of October, The Results Company is quickly expanding and offering quality jobs to the people of Polk County. They anticipate gaining 3 to 4 additional lines of business over the coming years and project a final employee count of about 600 people. The majority of the staff at the Winter Haven facility is bilingual. Just a brief walk through their call centers gives you a feel to their work environment: Collaborative, energetic and positive. At The Results Companies they don’t just believe in keeping their employees happy. They believe it is their duty to foster employees’ growth. Just over the last 9 months, 30 front line employees have been promoted. They believe their job is to prepare their employees to become leaders both within their organization and within the community.


Past Presidents Pass the Gavel

As is tradition, past presidents from the 80′s to today gathered for the passing of the gavel that ended with outgoing Chairman Steve Crisman passing the gavel to Greg Littleton, President of Citizens Bank & Trust, the 2014 – 2015 Chairman of the Board.

Outgoing Chairman Steve Crisman passes the gavel to incoming Chairman Greg Littleton.

Incoming Chairman Greg Littleton accepts the gavel from outgoing Chairman Steve Crisman.

Greg looked forward, outlining the three year strategic plan that the Board of Directors put into place during their summer board retreat.

The following installations were approved:

Nominated to a first three-year term:

  • Jennifer Fasking, State Farm Insurance
  • Angel Neubrand, Winter Haven Hospital
  • Bob O’Malley, CSX
  • Claire Orologas, Polk Museum of Art
  • Martha Santiago, Polk State College

Reappointed to a second-three year term:

  • Mike Mahalak, Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Winter Haven
  • Ingram Leedy, Protected Trust
  • Amy Sumerlin, Bright House Networks

Officers for 2014 – 2015:

  • Chairman                                      Greg Littleton
  • Chairwoman-elect                       Debbie Harsh
  • First Vice Chair                            Hap Hazelwood
  • Treasurer                                      Adrian Jones
  • Immediate Past Chairman        Steve Crisman


Check out the video below created to kick off the program and view photos from the event on our Facebook page.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 10.23.32

Posted in Chamber Events, Economic Development, Education, Florida Polytechnic, LEGOLAND® Florida, Observations, Perspective, Polk State College, Small Business Opportunity, Success Stories, Tourism | Leave a comment

United Way of Central Florida Recognized for Highest Levels of Excellence

Congratulations to chamber member, The United Way of Central Florida, for being rated at the highest levels of excellence for non-profits in the country. Read more in this article, reposted by from The Ledger.

Repost from The Ledger, published Wednesday, September 1o, 2014.


United Way of Central Florida has been recognized by one of the nation’s leading charity watchdogs for excellence in fiscal accountability and financial health.

Based in Highland City, the local United Way that covers Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties earned four stars, the highest rating from New Jersey-based Charity Navigator, for fiscal year ending June 2013. It’s the third such honor for United Way in recent years.

Perhaps even more notable is the high numerical score United Way received since Charity Navigator’s switch in August to a new, 100-point ratings system. The former system rated charities on seven financial measures for a total score of 70.

The new system adds another 17 measures for accountability and transparency.

Under the new system, United Way of Central Florida garnered a score of 97.48, one of the highest compared with other United Ways in Florida awarded four stars by Charity Navigator.

“That should make their donors feel good,” said Sandra Miniutti, Charity Navigator’s vice president of marketing.

The scores are based on an analysis of a charity’s federal income tax filing, which is public information. Charity Navigator rates some 8,000 public charities, a slim portion of the nation’s 1.4 million nonprofits.

But those 8,000 receive half of all donations, Miniutti said, including dollars given to churches and other nonprofits whose tax filings are excluded from public disclosure because of religious exemptions.

Donors more and more target donations based on the guidance of Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and other watchdog groups that offer critical financial data through easy-to-use websites.

In a sense, United Way is viewed by some as a reputable clearinghouse for a community’s nonprofits, primarily in the human services arena. The umbrella organization enlists volunteers who visit the agencies it supports to monitor efficiencies and scrutinize financials.

But Charity Navigator provides another layer of scrutiny independent of United Way, said Sherri Riccio-Diaz, a spokeswoman for United Way of Central Florida.

“It’s a good tool, if people trust it,” she said. “It’s great that there are organizations aggregating these data.”

Charity Navigator adopted a 100-point scorecard to streamline its methodology. Charities earn four stars for a score of between 90 and 100, while 80 to 89 earns three stars and so on. A score of 55 or lower garners no stars.

In a recent interview with The NonProfit Times, Ken Berger, Charity Navigator’s president and CEO, said his company will be adding even more measures in coming months that focus on effectiveness and communication. For instance, does the charity publish evaluation reports that cover the results of its programs at least every five years?

For fiscal year 2012-13, United Way of Central Florida scored higher than its counterparts, marginally besting the Fort Myers-based United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties, which garnered an overall score of 97.

At a glance, the Charity Navigator tool shows the percentage agencies spend on program services, compared to administrative and fundraising expenses.

United Way of Central Florida reported fiscal year 2012-13 revenues, including grants and other income, of $11.9 million, of which 84.3 percent went to program services, while 7.3 percent was spent on administration and 8.4 percent on fundraising expenses.

United Way of Central Florida has a long-term reputation for being a good agency — congratulations to them,” said Cliff Smith, president of UnitedWay in Fort Myers. “We should be completely transparent. We should be an open book.”

Eric Pera can be reached at or 863-802-7528. See original posting here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Familiar name, new lakeside location

Tanners logo      A new restaurant and bar destination operated by familiar Winter Haven restaurateurs will open soon on the beautiful Chain of Lakes. Coming in September 2014, Tanners Lakeside Restaurant & Bar will be located at 1006 South Lake Howard Drive on Lake May, on the site formerly known as Sally’s Shrimpboat and most recently McGillicuddy’s.

Renovations have begun on the 10,000-square-foot location. John and Debbie Tennick are creating a rustic, casual restaurant and bar providing a top-quality dining and nightlife experience in a beautiful lakefront setting. The menu will include a great selection of appetizers, fresh seafood, hand-cut steaks, unique sandwiches, hand-made burgers, freshly made flatbreads and
other creative dishes.

Plans include the creation of outdoor space to enjoy food, beverages and live music. Tanners Lakeside will also be a premier location to accommodate intimate or large private parties. Their catering division will offer a full range of off-site food and beverage services.

“We have, for many years, enjoyed the unique beauty and charm of our lakes and have looked at creating something special in this location on several occasions over the past ten years. After the current owners, Gregg Gay and Philip Van Winkle recently purchased the property, we found the timing was right to move forward with this waterfront project,” said Debbie Tennick.

John and Debbie Tennick opened their first restaurant, Thyme Square Bistro, in Downtown Winter Haven in 1998, moving on to open the first Tanner’s Bar adjacent to that restaurant in 2000. The concept of Tanner’s Pub was developed, expanded and relocated across the street from the original location in 2002, contributing to the major revitalization efforts in downtown for the next ten years.

With the opening of Tanners Lakeside, the Tennicks look forward to their new venture, providing a destination where residents and visitors can enjoy a unique dining and entertainment experience in a beautiful lakefront setting.

Posted in Dining | 27 Comments

Magnuson Grand Conference Hotel Gets Facelift

From marble tile to a KidZone to improved outdoor seating – the Magnuson Grand-Conference Hotel (formerly the Park View Hotel) is investing in renovating their property. Located just outside the gates of LEGOLAND Florida, the hotel owners are trying to upgrade to have a broader appeal to visitors and corporate travelers alike. While more is to come in their renovation plans, here is a sneak peek at some of the changes they’ve made so far.


Second floor landing looking into restaurant and bar



Business center


Fitness center


Lobby seating area


The old lounge has been converted into a kid’s play area










Xbox cubby in the lobby (apparently it’s popular and engaging as this kid barely looked up when I asked if I could take his picture!)


View from the second floor outdoor deck over the pool


Outdoor seating tables that convert to fire pits in the cooler months


Pool deck




King guest room



Posted in Tourism | Leave a comment

Best Places to Work Awards – Our members shine

This morning CareerSource Polk held their annual meeting and bestowed the Best Places to Work 2013 Awards on several of our members! (descriptions courtesy of the event program)

Small Business Category: 



Clark/Nikdel/Powell (CNP) has a primary goal – that their employees love coming to work. Covering the cost of all insurance premiums for full time employees, 401k with company match and a $200 check on your birthday is where it starts. With recognition that their employees are responsible professionals, there is no cap on vacation or sick time and flexible work arrangements are provided to retain talent, even if it means remotely working on a contractual basis while backpacking through Europe. Instituting non-traditional practices to keep morale high, they set aside time for personal development, birthday celebrations, daily Frisbee breaks and use late Friday afternoons to bond as an office. Management is transparent with the company’s financial situation and if monthly goals are surpassed, 25% of the profit goes towards employee bonuses. Community involvement is permitted and encouraged during work hours and pro-bono projects for local non-profits are often taken.

Community Southern Bank


Community Southern Bank is not just another company, they are family, and that’s why they believe it is important to have their staff share in the long-term success of the company. Through stock options, profit-sharing, annual bonuses and pay increases, the bank’s profitability has allowed them to reward their employees in spite of difficult economic times. The benefits package includes 100% employer paid premiums for Medical, Dental, Short and Long Term Disability and Group Life Insurance. In addition, the bank has paid thousands of dollars for a number of programs benefitting employees and sponsored by the local chambers of commerce.

Spherion Staffing

Screenshot 2014-08-28 12.53.55

The average tenure of those at Spherion is 14 years and that is due to the a commitment to make each team member feel as though they are part owner of the company though monthly events, quarterly retreats, an annual all-inclusive three day party at a great destination, and annual profit sharing for all employees. Flexibility is also key to their benefits with unique features including medical expense loan for any employee exceeding their HSA Savings Account, ability to roll over unused medical time off, partial reimbursement for gym memberships and a flexible work schedule. Spherion also boasts of offering the best personal and vacation allowances in the staffing business with 34 paid days off within the first year of employment.

Medium Business Category: 

Center for Retina & Macular Disease


The Center for Retina and Macular Dieseases retention rate for 2013 was 100% due in part for their compensation and benefit philosophy of providing above market pay and benefits to all full and part-time staff. Free healthcare is offered to all full-time staff and those who choose high-deductible plan also receive family coverage at no cost. In addition, staff have access to no deductive CT scans, MRIs, and similar scans. The company also offers generous PTO, AAA and Sam’s Club Group Membership, tickets to area theme parks, Identity Theft Protection, Staples Employee Discount Plan and Emergency Loans (via the 401K plan).

Citizens Bank & Trust


With the belief that a key to their employees’ happiness if the willingness to listen to their wants and values, Citizens Bank & Trust enhances their comprehensive benefits package by including creativity and flexibility. Unused sick, vacation and personal days may be rolled into an extended sick bank, employees can donate vacation or sick time to any employee who has exhausted their own due to medical issues and the company pays 70% of the high deductible medical plan whether the employee has employee only or family coverage. Employee Appreciation Week is also celebrated each year with surprises and treats for all employees.

Lanier Upshaw

lanier_upshaw Lanier Upshaw offers careers, not jobs, and through a Stock Ownership Retirement Plan their employees become owners of the agency and eventually enjoy a financially stable retirement. Other employee benefits include 100% paid dental premiums plus $100 reimbursement for dental services, a “benefit allowance” that equals the cost of the life insurance and the long-term disability insurance, an extended illness bank funded annually with unused PTO and LegalShield and ID Watchdog benefits to protect them and their families. They honor their employees with a Kudos program, a service award pin set with real diamond and sapphires, an employee appreciation afternoon with a luncheon and a special gift at 30 and 35 years of service. Emphasizing education for employees and their families, a Good Report Card program provides $25 gift card to employees’ children who earn all “A’s” and the firm pays 100% for the employees’ education and designation programs.

Polk County Clerk of Courts


The goal of the Polk County Clerk Courts is to help their employees and employees’ families achieve optimum health with unique benefits including: A Beginning Right Maternity program, a $200 Wellness Incentive Credit and a $100 Cash Incentive for completing an individual health assessment. Additionally, they offer an on-site health clinic for all employees and dependents with no cost services that can be accessed on company time. With their Tuition Reimbursement program already established, an Education Incentive Pay program was implemented to encourage employees to advance their education by rewarding academic achievement with cash incentives. Other benefits include allowing children of staff to stay in the employee break room after school, 16 paid hours of volunteer time, and a PTO sellback program.

Rita Staffing


Founded over 40 years ago, Rita Staffing treats their employees like family by supporting each other through the tough times. The company takes care to manage rising health insurance costs and has had an average increase in overall premium over the last four years of less than 1%. As professional development is a priority, they have paid for the training of 9 team members to receive their SPHR/PHR designations and frequently send consultants and managers to local and national industry conferences to advance their teams knowledge and maintain their certifications. All employees qualify for quarterly bonuses based on profitability and incentives are given for recruiting and meeting other department goals. In addition, in 2013 they held a 40th anniversary Beach Party event where the owners paid for a room, meals, gift bags and dinner on the beach for all of their employees and their family members.

Large Business Category: 

Polk County Board of County Commissioners

Polk-County-LogoPolk County BOCC‘s goal is to attract and retain employees who choose public service as a career. An array of incentives, including but not limited to up to $300 wellness incentive for employees and covered spouses, On-Site Physician and Podiatrist, free sick care for covered dependents, Quit Smoking Now program, Diabetes Management program, Hypertension Management program, on-site pharmacist ad nurse educator, healthy pregnancy program, free on-site screenings for skin, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, and osteoporosis for health plan members. They have a number of programs that demonstrate their interest in their employees’ future such as award-winning succession planning, individual development plans, and SHINE which recognizes and rewards employees who have submitted suggestions adopted by management. So far, 548 financial awards have been made to BOCC employees through this program.

MEGA Business Category


Legoland_FloridaCommitted to providing an environment where everyone feels valued, respected and able to contribute to the business, LEGOLAND Florida covers up to 90% of medical benefit costs for their Model Citizens (MC) and their families. An anonymous, third part hotline is also available for MCs to provide feedback or important workplace information and employees are kept fully aware of what is going on in the business by means of a weekly pocket guide, newsletters, a company intranet and team meetings. Each year, the park play together with a start of the year Launch Party, MC and family water park days, MC and family end of summer picnics and much more. LEGOLAND also takes pride in Merlin’s Breed Rescue Protect global initiative where employees engage in marine conservation.



Sherwin Williams is proud of the company they keep – their family of loyal employees. They are committed to providing employees safe and healthy working environments and have not had an accident in the warehouse in over a year. Sherwin Williams makes sure their employees have numerous opportunities to promote their own health and wellness, whether it is through their corporate run wellness program which provides benefits such as tobacco cessation, Weight Watchers discounts, a subsidized gym membership and more. The also ensure they are taking care of the employees by giving them opportunities to have operational input through numerous employee committees and enjoying recreational activities on the weekend together. Financially, employees are support with stock options, an incentive program, profit sharing a 401K with company match, adoption assistance and tuition reimbursement.

Walmart Logistics DC 6071

Screenshot 2014-08-28 14.43.53Walmart believes in promotion from within at all levels and even the CEO began his career as an hourly order filler. With less than a 10% turnover rate, the average length of service of their full-time employees is 11 to 20 years. In an effort to provide the highest quality care and cost savings, the Centers of Excellence program was created to give access to select hospitals where 100% of inpatient and outpatient costs for hip and knee joint replacement and certain heart and spine surgeries are provided. One employee stated, “I started at Walmart as a part-time office clerk, 3 weeks after I turned 18 years old and began making $8.25 an hour. I didn’t not have any type of college education, not did I have a High School Diploma at the time. In February of 2004, I was promoted to the Human Resources Office and I now make $21.05 per hour.”


Two of our members were also honored as Employers of Distinction which recognize those companies who have shown consistent commitment to improving the quality of life of their employees. Those are:

Clark & Daughtery 

Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP


Posted in Best Business Practices | Leave a comment

Winter Haven leads in the Liveable Polk Awards

Last night, Polk Vision and the Polk Transportation Planning Organization presented the Liveable Polk Awards and Winter Haven was definitely the night’s winner. You couldn’t help but swell with pride as city and private entities in the greater Winter Haven area were recognized one after the other for making Winter Haven an amazing place to live! The Livable Polk Awards recognize conservation and sustainable development and healthy community design efforts that go beyond the ordinary and set an example of what can be done in Polk County. Here are a few of the highlights:




The first awards given were the Community Recognition Awards. These four projects worthy of gratitude in helping create a more livable Polk. All four are in the greater Winter Haven/Eloise area.

  • The Winter Haven Friends of the Library have partnered with the library and City of Winter Haven to create a resource that allows people to learn new skills and utilize technology, most of it in the SEED lab, which stands for Science, Education, Exploration, Design lab.
  • The Eloise Arts Ensemble is being recognized for its community garden, which provides access to fruits and vegetables in a community gathering space where people can learn how to grow their own produce.
  • Greenovative Design and Engineering is being honored for its environmentally-friendly blueprint to turn a dilapidated warehouse into the vibrant hew home of the Humane Society in Winter Haven.
  • City of Winter Haven is receiving a community recognition award tonight for creating more livable space and improved access to the downtown through its trail and road improvements on Third Street.


The second award category highlighted the “Polk County Trendsetters.” Trendsetter awards are given to projects that embody innovation and provide a model for the future. Again, efforts happening in Winter Haven were by far the majority of those honored:

  • The City of Winter Haven is improving water quality and beautifying the urban environment through its Rain Garden Program.  A rain garden is an attractively designed depressed area that allows water to percolate through soil as an alternative to piping it directly into a lake.  It allows nature to pretreat storm water before it re-enters nearby lakes.  The city has installed close to 50 rain gardens and has plans for more. (I bet you’ve seen a Rain Garden and don’t even know it!)



  • Building on the city’s efforts, Polk State College has implemented a Rain Garden Project that is educational and a benefit to the community. At the Winter Haven campus, students in Professor Natalie Whitcomb’s Introduction to Environmental Science Course have planted rain gardens the last three years.  The students have the privilege of interacting with staff from the City of Winter Haven and the University of Florida / IFAS Polk County Extension Office to learn about the Florida aquifer, effects of urbanization on the environment and Florida-friendly landscaping.
  • Chamber member Tampa Electric Company and LEGOLAND Florida were recognized for their partnership in the Solar Photovoltaic Project. On Earth Day 2014, representatives from LEGOLAND Florida and Tampa Electric flipped the switch on a Tampa Electric-owned 30,000-watt solar photovoltaic (PV) system which is installed atop LEGOLAND’S Imagination Zone. A PV system this size is capable of generating enough electricity from the sun to power three average-sized homes and offset about 40 tons of carbon dioxide per year – equivalent to planting more than nine acres of trees. LEGOLAND marked Earth Day by running completely on renewable energy. 

Screenshot 2014-08-28 12.21.10


Chamber members also won several Judges’ Choice Awards including the Chain of Lakes Trial Bridge and Bok Tower Gardens for their rare plant conservation program.



Chain of Lakes Trail Bridge

The first Judge’s Choice Award winner goes to the City of Winter Haven for the construction and opening of the Chain of Lakes Pedestrian Trail Bridge over Avenue T.

The Chain of Lakes Trail Bridge is truly a bridge for the community and the larger regional trail network.  It connects the community and improves safety by eliminating the need for bicyclists, walkers and runners to cross a busy, four-lane road as part of the Chain of Lakes Trail.  It helps to connect population centers to area parks, businesses and other community places.  The trail bridge also provides a critical link for the larger trail system and access to the Lake Alfred Trail and planned Old Dixie Trail.

In partnership with the Polk TPO and the Florida Department of Transportation, the city has constructed an architectural gem that sets the standard for future trail bridges in Polk County.

Cheryl Peterson, Conservation Manager Juliet Rynear, Rare Plant Specialist

Bok Tower Gardens’ Cheryl Peterson, Conservation Manager
Juliet Rynear, Rare Plant Specialist


The next Judge’s Choice Award goes to Bok Tower Gardens for its Rare Plant Conservation Program.

This program is an expression of Bok Tower Gardens’ conservation mission and its commitment to conserving and enhancing our understanding of Florida’s rarest plants.

As part of this program, Bok Towers Garden is partnering with communities in Polk and other conservation groups to preserve and restore rare plant species and habitat.  It is one of 39 institutions nationwide that are part of the Center for Plant Conservation and the program’s efforts include plants that are growing in their natural habits and others that are growing in the Bok Tower Garden nursery.

The nursery has been able to grow many of central and north Florida’s globally endangered rare plant species – plants that grow in a few locations in Florida and nowhere else in the world.






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2014 Polk Emerging Leaders

Last Wednesday, over 200 people from all over the county gathered at the Bartow Civic Center to celebrate the newest 5 Polk Emerging Leaders. This was the fourth year the awards have occurred, but the first year they have been a collaborative event between the 3 established young professional groups in Polk County – Emerge Lakeland, Engage Bartow and the Winter Haven Young Professionals Group.

Learn more about the winners below:

Craig Clevenger – Winter Haven High School 

Craig ClevengerThe opening line of this Craig’s first nomination read, “Craig lives and embodies the theory that we are here to help those in need and he takes it upon himself to be a responsible and important part of that care giving.” Another nomination described him as a “wonderful role model” and yet another described him as an “outstanding civic leader who consistently leads by example to our youth.” The nominator continues that, “Craig has invested all of his human capital back into the community and the extensive “extra-curricular” community involvement exceeds all expectation and deserves recognition. “

Craig is a graduate of Lake Region High School Class of 2001 and graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in Interdisciplinary Social Science with an emphasis on Public Administration from Florida State University. After graduating from college and working as a bookkeeper and credit manager, he decided to change careers and use their passion for public service to give back to the community. That is when he became a teacher. In 2009, he joined the staff at Winter Haven High School. His principal, Gina Williams, states that he has taken on so many more responsibilities at the school than just teaching. He took over the leadership of their dying Key Club and through the lessons instilled within him through his active involvement in Kiwanis, he tripled the Key Club’s enrollment. He also began a Leadership Class at the high school in which he brings in community leaders as guest speakers to help his students learn more about how the local government and community work. He also encourages them to attend a local city commission meeting during the year.
Craig full understands that schools can’t do it alone. One nominator describe it, “He understands that schools cannot be successful without help from community and business partners, and he has fostered this type of relationship more than most other educators.”

A prime example was his effort to breathe new life into the Winter Haven High School homecoming parade by taking it from an around-the-block trip to a venture into downtown Winter Haven, fundraising within the business community and increasing alumni participation while driving business into the downtown core.

When asked to describe his greatest professional achievement, Craig references an anonymous note that was left on this desk.

“I want to say thank you for this school year. I came in this school year with the mindset of dropping out. But, once I got in this class, my mind changed. When I walk the field at graduation, give yourself a pat on the back ‘cause you did a good job. Thanks, man.”

In addition to the leadership roles he has taken at Winter Haven High School this award recipient is an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Winter Haven most recently serving as Vice President of the Club and coordinating the annual “Serving the Children” charity golf tournament for the last three years – raising nearly $25,000 for programs supporting youth in East Polk County.

Stephanie Colon – Community Southern Bank 

Stephanie ColonStephanie’s nomination letters were filled with verbs such as “guides”, “directs” “coaches” and “mentors.” Another nominator went on to say that she “inspires those around them to reach for the stars and never let circumstances get in the way of their goals.” Yet another nominator described her as the great “connector” – always able put the right people together to get problems solved.

Stephanie is a graduate of Fort Meade High School and attended Polk State College. Due to life’s circumstances she was not able to complete a college degree, but after reading the rest of this summary you would have never have guessed. She explains in her application that having to matriculate through the quote “School of Life,” that is to say, not having many of the same opportunities afforded to her peers, having to work her way through high school and having to raise her younger sibling on her own; all made her the stronger and more determined woman she is today.

Professionally, Stephanie has excelled. She began her career as a bank teller and customer service rep. Over 17 years of banking experience later and she is one of the top Business Bankers for Community Southern Bank. She credits her professional success to Community Southern for not just supporting her community involvement but encouraging and empowering her to make a difference in the community.

To read through Stepahnie’s list of leadership roles is to read through a directory of community organizations and non-profits in Polk County. As one nominator stated, this person plunges herself into everything she does and there is too much of that to keep track of. But she does it all with enthusiasm and passion.” She has served as either board or committee members of Emerge Lakeland, March of Dimes, Business Network International, the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Florida, Girls Inc. of Lakeland, and Lakeland Rotary, to name just a few. Just this past year, she also served as an Honor Flight Guardian which involves taking a World War II veteran to visit the Memorial in Washington, D.C.

But of all her volunteer efforts she cites two accomplishments of which she is most proud. In 2012, Girls Inc. of Lakeland honored her with the “She Knows Where She’s Going Award.” This award is given annually to woman who have contributed to their community and workplace in a way that serves as a perfect role model for young women.

Stephanie is also an avid kickball player.  She took this love of the game to a new level when she created a kickball tournament to raise funds for the H.E.R.O Revolution which is a non-profit whose mission is to create anti-bullying awareness in our youth. The tournament raised $3,000 in the first year!

After listening to her involvement it is no surprise why she is being honored.

Ashley Link – Southern Homes of Polk County 

Ashley Link Ashley’s nominator wrote that she leads with grace and humility. A Lakeland native, the nominator notes that this next winner has a long family tradition of giving back to the community and she is no exception.

After graduating from Lakeland High School she followed another family tradition and attended the University of Alabama, graduating with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in communication studies. What she found fascinating throughout her studies was the power of grassroots movements. Ashley cites one of her greatest professional accomplishments as being one of her first experiences out of college. She moved from Alabama to Wyoming to work as the communications manager for the Wyoming Tobacco-Use Prevention Coalition. At this time in 2002, there was a movement on the rise to increase the excise tax on tobacco products. Wyoming had one of the lowest in the country and studies had proven that if you make the product more expensive you have a higher chance of impacting the number of users. On top of that, the Marlboro Man was everywhere you looked in Wyoming. Tobacco was a part of their daily lives. It was an uphill battle to say the least but after a year of what one newspaper described as, “organized, grassroots, drum –thumping” the tax was signed into law. This winner states that watching the power of this movement set the tone for the rest of her career.

Connecting groups of people together to do good extended far beyond her work-life. When she moved back to Polk County in 2007 she immediately dove back into volunteerism serving as a student mentor at Blake Elementary School, serving on the marketing committee of Emerge Lakeland, and on the steering committee of Lakeland Vision. She also served on the Polk Theatre Board of Trustees as Vice Chair and Secretary.

Her faith is a strong source of her passion to give back. As an Elder at the First Presbyterian Church, she has taken on numerous leadership roles including Worship Council Chair, School Supply Drive Chair for 3 years, Mission Council co-chair and the list goes on.

Many of you who know this person, also know that she is a tireless leader of the Junior League of Greater Lakeland. Through her involvement in this program she has worked her way to being the President for this next fiscal year. Her mission leading up to this year has been to ensure the woman in this program are fully aware of the impacts their organization has on the community. Many of the jewels of community’s family activities are because of the work of the woman in the Junior League including the Lakeland Christmas Parade, Pig Fest BBQ Competition as well as benefactors of their work including Explorations V, the Learning Resource Center and the Polk Museum of Art. This winner created a program that requires the woman in the league to visit and fully understand these organizations in order create a succession of informed organization leadership.

William Link - Reed & Mawhinney, P.L. 

Will LinkWill was described by his nominator as always giving 110% to anything he commits to. And that is no easy feat with his resume.

He is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a double major in Economics and Political Science and graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. After college, Will relocated to Lakeland where he has been practicing law for the last 10 years. Among his professional achievements, he cites being entrusted to develop a new practice area for his firm, Reed & Mawhinney, P.L. as one of his greatest accomplishments. He developed a NFA Gun Trust practice area which developed a new trust that in addition to the basic ownership and transfer provisions commonly found in trusts, it encourages trustees to provide firearm education and training for the trust beneficiaries and provides other safeguards. This is now used by both his clients and local firearms dealers.

Despite having a wife, child and a very demanding quote “paying job”, he still finds the time to roll up his sleeves and be actively involved with many other community organizations. One of the organizations he volunteers his time towards is Explorations V Children’s Museum. He has served as the secretary, vice president and president of the board of directors and has donated pro-bono work navigating the museum through a mortgage refinance, lease negotiations and other legal matters. He also chaired their Golf Tournament Fundraiser in 2009 and 2011. Georgeann Carlton, Director of the Museum, explains that when it comes to the 80/20 rule of most boards (i.e. 20% of people do 80% of the work) Will is always on the 20% side.

In addition to his involvement in the Children’s museum, Will has been a member of Emerge Lakeland for the last 9 years, serving in every capacity from events committee, to membership, to mentoring to currently serving as Chair. He has served as a student mentor for Girls Inc. as well as played, coached and served as a board member for the Lakeland Roller Hockey League. He is also a graduate of Leadership Lakeland Class 31.

And as if that wasn’t enough to do, Will is also an entrepreneur and small business owner. He is the founder, owner and designer of Trinitee Apparel, a Catholic-based apparel company that stemmed from his desire to have a creative outlet as well as a method of spreading the gospel through somewhat unconventional avenues.  He launched the company through the help of a Kickstarter online campaign and raised 365% of his goal to launch the business. He routinely adopts local non-profits for two weeks at a time and donates 20% of the proceeds to the sale of the shirts to that group.

And finally, Will adds columnist to his list, writing columns in the Lakeland Chamber magazine as well as most recently in The Ledger to highlight the many opportunities young professionals in Lakeland have to grow and develop – certainly in line with the spirit of these awards.

Chuck Thornton – Citizens Bank & Trust
Chuck ThorntonChuck was described by his nominator as the first person that came to everyone’s mind when they thought about nominating someone for this award. They described him as someone who when he sees a void, he doesn’t wait for someone else to fill it, but rather jumps in feet first to meet the workplace or community need.

Born and raised in Frostproof, this award recipient has dedicated his life to helping to improve the community he loves so dearly. He received his bachelor’s degree in Finance from Webber International University in 2005 and is currently enrolled in the University of Florida School of Banking. He has been honored to take the financial skills and knowledge back to his hometown’s Wall Street, literally, where he serves as Branch Manager for the Frostproof branch of Citizens Bank & Trust located on E Wall St. Of his professional achievements, he cites exceeding budget expectations of loan and deposit growth, even during the tougher years of the economy.

His hard work extends far beyond the walls of his branch. He serves as the treasurer of the Frostproof Chamber of Commerce, President of the Frostproof Rotary Club, a board member of the Frostproof Middle/Senior High School Advisory Committee and co-chair of the employee giving United Way of Central Florida campaign for Citizens Bank and Trust. Knowing, however, that building cross-county relationships can only benefit his efforts in Frostproof, he has reached out to other communities. He is a graduate of Leadership Winter Haven Class 31 and just this past April completed his service on the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Advisory Council. This is a group that meets periodically with Sheriff Grady Judd to serve as a focus group of sorts on issues affecting the county’s law enforcement.

When discussing his greatest accomplishment outside of his profession, he cites chairing the 2011 Frostproof Relay for Life. His grandmother had recently lost her battle with cancer and while that event takes a tremendous amount of work and volunteer coordination, it was worth every hour knowing she would be tremendously proud.


Thank you to the event sponsors:

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State of Our Schools – A Cautiously Positive but Realistic Outlook

Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy and School Board Member Dick Mullenax open the program

Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy and School Board Member Dick Mullenax open the program

Tuesday night, I attended one of many informational sessions Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy is hosting around the county as the school year begins. This event was open to the public and held at Elbert Elementary with approximately 50 people in attendance. If there are two points that I walked away with, it is that 1) there is a lot going on at Polk County Public Schools and 2) improving our schools is a very, very complicated issue. Frankly, my mind was exhausted when I left. I took four pages of notes, but as I know you won’t read that,  I will do my best to summarize the session. (P.S. She still has a few sessions left so if you want the novel instead of the Reader’s Digest version, I highly recommend you attend. The sessions pack a lot of valuable information in within the hour.)


1. The session started with some great news for Winter Haven – Superintendent LeRoy confirmed with Doug Lockwood of the Public Education Partnership of Winter Haven that the school board will support their program of after-school extended learning at the PEP Tutoring Center. To what extent is unclear from the brief conversation (I fully admit to eavesdropping), but since that funding was not a certainty it was a relief to hear.

2. Superintendent LeRoy spent the first half-hour reviewing her first year at Polk County Schools and steps that have been put in place to move our district forward. The highlights:

  • Centralizing the school system. This crossed several of her topics, but what I took away from this is that the school system is wanting to become more consistent with services and support offered to every school, curriculum offered, hours of teachable time (bell schedules), advancement, honors, AP and dual enrollment opportunities, safety etc. A centralized school system means that everyone is working towards a common goal, with metrics and measurable results. Moving together, if you will. She emphasized that this does not mean “centralized” in terms of Bartow and the school board being the center of the universe. In her words, “It’s about what happens in classrooms.” They have implemented a Comprehensive Aligned Instructional System (CAIS) which aligns all components of the system to ensure highly effective teaching and learning for every student, ensures common expectations and measurements and consistent and aligned district support.
  • They have redefined and finalized a 5-Year Strategic plan which includes measurable outcomes within all departments of the district (not just schools and school grades, but support departments like Human Resources, admin, procurement etc.).
  • They have also created more regional support that aims to address the unique needs of each of the regions or quadrants. There are four regions, each with their own Regional Assistant Superintendent and coaching staff, and they are made up of a similar mix of elementary, middle and high schools, income and other social demographics etc.. This coaching staff in the key core areas (math, science, reading and writing) is meant to support the teachers in an on-site, on-going basis versus bringing all the teachers together for an in-service for additional training for a day or week.
  • Implemented a multi-tier support system for schools (turn-around) to address the schools with the greatest academic challenges.
  • Hired a safety expert that aligns with law enforcement and provides clear expectations for schools in the safety and well-being of our students (outsourced from PCSO).
  • Focus on literacy and early learning. This was a huge theme of the night. From rolling out a comprehensive literacy series at the elementary schools to a program called Read While You Roll which picked the 20 longest bus routes and put a reading library on board so that students can read for pleasure while they are on the bus. According to LeRoy the program has proven to be successful in New York for improved reading comprehension skills as well as decreasing disciplinary problems on the bus.
  • This summer the school system rolled out a Summer Learning Program that serviced 4,500 students (and served over 122,000 meals – almost double from past summers). Without going through all of the stats, there were definite areas of improvement for students re-taking their End of Course exams.
  • They established 4 parent resource centers (one in each region) to provide wrap around services for families in high need communities
  • Another theme of the night was an emphasis on professional development for teachers and administrators to create top-tier talent for our system. They also addressed teacher and staff morale and have implemented an on-going Teacher Workload Committee, in collaboration with the Teacher’s Union, in an effort to reduce workload concerns for teachers and increase teacher morale.
  • They have also completed long-range planning for finances and for capital improvements – however LeRoy does admit that they have somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million in deferred maintenance projects on the to-do list and state funding, as we have read in the media this year, is very hard to come by.

3. School Grades

  • This was another area that definitely had my head spinning. I think what is important to note is that you cannot tell everything by a school grade. There are weighting system, safety nets, formulas etc. And it’s all about to change anyway. One thing I found surprising is that school starts this week and the district still does not know how they are being evaluated by the state for this year. But Superintendent LeRoy explained that it will be a more rigorous grading system from everything she has seen and heard.
  • This year the breakdown of Polk County schools was:
    15% – A
    12% – B
    26% – C
    39% – D
    8% – F
  • She explained that when she started she was given a mandate to make our district an “A” district within 5 years. I will not even pretend to guess what goes into being an “A” district, but something tells me based on the grades above that we have a lot of work to do. She is confident that we are heading in the right direction, however.
  • Public SessionOne thing to note about one school in Winter Haven: Of the 5 lowest performing schools in the district she specifically congratulated Garner Elementary in Winter Haven which improved from an “F” school to a “D” grade moving 351 points to 408. The gain of 57 points places the school only 27 points away from earning a “C” grade.

4. So what’s the bottom line. What is the school district focusing on over the next year (and years for that matter)?: 

  • Increase in reading proficiency across all grades with a focus on early literacy 
  • Provide multiple opportunities of acceleration and career academies for students 
  • Ensure efficient use of highly effective resources across all schools 
  • Significant increase in professional development for teachers and schools administrators
  • Increase financial efficiency to increase funding for academic resources in the classroom 
  • Expand extended day (like the PEP Tutoring Program) and summer learning opportunities

Again, there was so much more discussed at this meeting, so I encourage you to attend one of the remaining sessions or get plugged into the Chamber Education Committee (starts back in October – contact or the Public Education Partnership of Winter Haven.


Posted in Education | 3 Comments