Chamber welcomes new team member: Chelsea McCutchin

Chelsea McCutchinThe Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce the addition of a new team member, Mrs. Chelsea McCutchin. Chelsea, 30, joins the team as the Vice President of Communications and Advertising. Her duties will include marketing and communications strategy and materials, sales of website, First Thing enewsletter and Winter Haven Magazine advertising opportunities, sponsorship development and overseeing several of the educational and professional development programming, including the Winter Haven Young Professionals Group.

Chelsea’s resume reads like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel. Having worked in event planning, sales, content marketing, creative writing, social media, marketing strategy and ghost writing, she’s honed her skills, discovered her particular insights, and now has the opportunity to use all of her skills at once.

She’s been Phi Theta Kappa as an undergraduate, the top producing Program Director in the Chicagoland area by Jenny Craig, Intern of the year at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Marketing Manager for capital ventures, a consultant on many strategic campaigns and co-author of four books.

Chelsea is a Polk County native, but ventured to Texas for college where she majored in English at The University of Texas at Austin.  She is excited to be returning home to Central Florida with her husband and toddler son where she fights the good fight, one word at a time.

Please feel free to send Chelsea a note of welcome to

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LEGOLAND Hotel Now Booking!

On Tuesday LEGOLAND® Florida announced that reservations have opened for the LEGOLAND® Hotel. You can read the full press release below in italics. So what does this mean for Winter Haven and why should you care?

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

  1. First, and perhaps most importantly for many readers, this means that crazy cousin Jane and her 3 kids under the age of 8 have a new, fully-themed place to stay on the visit next summer.
  2. But on a serious note, this has positive implications for Winter Haven. The hotel is currently selling their rooms starting at $249 a night. The Kingdom VIP Suite is $499 (at least on the dates I searched in June – P.S. Only one Kingdom Suite left on June 15th!) . This will dramatically increase the average daily rate (ADR) of rooms available in Winter Haven. The ADR for Polk County sits around $79/night depending on the time of year. Higher room rates mean higher bed tax collections. Higher bed tax collections means more money reinvested into our area through Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing bonding, grant funding and national and international marketing efforts.
  3. If you build it… There is a strong desire to have an increased number of high quality rooms available to LEGOLAND visitors, sporting event participants, corporate travel, and let’s face it, our own friends and relatives. Right now we have an extremely aging inventory of rooms in Winter Haven. While thankful for the investments made by several hoteliers to renovate and modernize their properties, we still have a long way to go. The recruitment of new hotel options to our area is vital to our growth and is an effort at the forefront of the City planning, realtors and the economic development organizations.
  4. Some people have commented through various social media posts that this could hurt the existing hotels in the area. What has been experienced at properties surrounding other LEGOLAND Hotels, including the hotel opened in just the last few years in Carlsbad, CA, is that the occupancy rates and ADR of the surrounding hotel properties increased after their property opened.

The bottom line is this hotel venture will be a huge step forward in marketing Winter Haven as an overnight destination. That means that when the park closes, 152 rooms of people will be looking for things to do, places to eat and areas to shop. Do you hear the knocking? That’s opportunity . . . not housekeeping.

Photos from the hotel booking website:

LEGOLAND Florida Pirate Themed Room

Pirate Themed Room

LEGOLAND Florida Hotel

Bathroom in the Adventure Room

Kingdom Themed Room

Kingdom Themed Room

LEGOLAND Florida Hotel

Chidren’s portion of the Kingdom Themed Room


It’s less than one year before LEGOLAND® Florida Resort opens the doors to its new LEGOLAND® Hotel, and the window is now officially open for guests to book their rooms! Opening Summer 2015, the five story LEGO® themed hotel will feature 152 brightly colored and highly themed rooms and suites, thousands of LEGO models and interactive play areas! The addition of the Hotel gives guests the opportunity to extend their stay and explore LEGOLAND Florida Resort for more than one day giving them the ultimate family experience.

To book your reservation to LEGOLAND Hotel, visit:

Construction is going strong since the November groundbreaking and LEGOLAND Hotel recently reached its “topping off” milestone as the concrete was poured onto the roof. Emmet, from “The LEGO Movie,” dusted off his construction hat to help with the placing of the Merlin flag. Merlin Entertainments, the parent company of LEGOLAND Parks, is the number one attraction operator in Europe and the second largest in the world with more than 100 attractions in 22 countries and across four continents.

Located at the main entrance of LEGOLAND Florida, the Hotel includes a pool, restaurants including a kid-size buffet, interactive play areas and is truly designed to inspire imaginations and create memories for all visitors. Hotel guests will have early access to the Park and be treated to nightly entertainment.

Families can choose from one of three popular LEGO toy lines as their room theme: Pirate, Kingdom or Adventure. All rooms include two separate sleeping areas, with a queen-size bed for grown-ups, and a separate sleeping area for up to three little ones, complete with a bunk bed, pull-out trundle bed and their very own TV! An exciting new room theme will be announced at a later date. Room rates start as low as $249, varying by season. For the most updated information, visit

Posted in LEGOLAND® Florida | 1 Comment

WhistleStop Winter Haven Straw Ballot Results

They came. They crooned. They chowed. They voted. 

Check out the results of the straw ballot below.

Thank you to our sponsors:

The Ledger Media Group, Tampa Electric Company

Bright House Networks, Budget Auto Glass, Bernie Little Distributors

And to the Polk County Supervisor of Elections Office

Check out all of the photos from the event on Facebook.



Straw Ballot Results:

(134 Ballots Cast)


Congress District 9:

Jorge Bonilla – 12

Carol Platt – 71

Peter Vivaldi- 9

Alan Grayson- 20

Nick Ruiz- 4

Marko Milakovich – 4


Congress District 10:

Daniel Webster – 100

William Ferree- 1

Michael McKenna – 11

Shayan Modarres- 9


Congress District 15:

Dennis Ross- 105

Alan M. Cohn – 22


Congress District 17:

Tom Rooney – 90

Will Bronson- 29



Rick Scott- 93

Charlie Crist- 21

Nan H. Rich- 11

Adrian Wylle – 2

Yinka A Adeshina- 0

E Cuevas-Neunder- 1

Glenn Burkett- 0

Farid Khavari – 1


Attorney General:

Pam Bondi – 103

George Sheldon- 15

Perry Thurston- 9

Bill Wohlsifer- 2


Chief Financial Officer:

Jeff Atwater – 100

William Rankin- 21


Commissioner of Agriculture:

Adam Putnam- 116

Thaddeus Hamilton- 15


Senate District 14:

Darren Soto- 55

Devin Norton- 44


House District 39:

Neil Combee- 108

Carol Castagnero- 21


House District 40:

Colleen Burton – 79

John Shannon- 18

Ricky Shirah- 25

Franklin Shoemaker- 2


House District 41:

John Wood – 99

Celestyne Williams – 22


House District 42:

Mike LaRosa – 103

Chad Carnell- 4

Pete Plancencia – 8

Zulma Velez-Estrada- 8


Circuit Judge:

Larry Helms – 84

Taylor Davidson- 32


School Board District 3:

Hazel Sellers – 87

Randy Wilkinson- 35


School Board District 6:

Lynn Wilson – 91

Debra Smith Wright – 34


School Board District 7:

Tim Harris 73

Lisa Bone Miller – 45


Amendment 1 Title: Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands

Yes- 91

No – 30


Amendment 2 Title: Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions

Yes – 37

No- 91


Amendment 3: Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies 

Yes- 72

No- 44


County Question: My Rides My Roads Transit Referendum

Yes- 58

No- 64


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I like to Move It, Move It.

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

LEGOLAND® Florida plays host for a second consecutive year to Cartoon Network’s MOVE IT MOVEMENT Tour on August 9 & 10. The summertime traveling event targets youth 6-14 and their parents, presented in partnership with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition and in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative.

Activities include:

  • NBA/WNBA FIT & NBA Hoop Troop — kids can demonstrate their fitness level by testing their basketball skills and shoot against the clock for prizes;
  • The PGA of America Driving Range — updated to reflect the new PGA Sports Academy and its goal of developing young social and competitive golfers, kids are invited to drive the ball for accuracy and distance with The PGA driving range. Top scores are posted on the PGA Sports Academy leaderboard;
  • NFL PLAY 60 — kids can practice a variety of football-themed activities, including running patterns and passing skills;
  • Subway® Fresh Fit for Kids™ Football Sled Challenge – At the challenge, kids can learn the importance of piling the veggies on their favorite Subway sandwich, as they push a custom Subway football sled across the finish line.
  • Let’s Move!/PALA+ booth — a station set aside specifically for registration materials, nutrition tips and further information promoting participation with Let’s Move! and the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award.The first 500 guests each day will also have the opportunity to win a pair MOVE IT MOVEMENT sunglasses after completing their ‘passport’ to each of the MOVE IT MOVEMENT stations around the park.


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A Visual Reminder of the Importance of Planning

A few weeks ago, City Manager Deric Feacher gave a presentation to the chamber’s Young Professionals Group on the importance of planning and being civically engaged in the process within our community. To kick off the presentation he showed a series of ‘then & now’ photos to illustrate how planning leads to what we see today. There were audible gasps from the audience at the transformation. At that moment, I thought it would be important to share . . .

How do these changes happen? It has to be a collaborative effort, and collaborative vision, between the city (staff and elected officials), private investors,  the business community and the citizens of the community speaking up for what they want. With all of the future opportunities in Winter Haven, we are at the crossroads of the next round of transformation. In your opinion, what should the collaborative planning efforts be focused on?

A visual reminder: 

Central Avenue before 2003

Central Ave Pre 2003

Central Avenue TODAY: 

Central Ave Today

Central Avenue corner lot before 2000:

Central Avenue Corner 2000

Central Avenue corner lot TODAY:

Central Ave Corner TODAY

Central Avenue looking west in 2000:

Central Ave Looking West 2000

Central Avenue looking west TODAY:

Central Ave Looking West Today

234 W Central Avenue before 200o

Potthast Studios before 2000

234 W Central Avenue TODAY (Potthast Studios) 

Potthast Studios TODAY

3rd St NW looking towards Central Avenue – before 2009

3rd St facing Central before 2009

3rd St NW looking towards Central Avenue – TODAY 

3rd St towards Central Today

Central Park before 2000 

Central Park before 2000

Central Park TODAY

Central Park Today

Posted in Economic Development | 8 Comments

Two Chamber Members named to Florida Trend’s Best Places to Work

Congratulations to Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP and Lanier Upshaw for being named to the Florida Trend Best Places to Work.  This list is compiled through a survey by Florida Trend magazine and is dedicated to identifying and recognizing Florida’s best employers in small, medium and large categories. The metrics include employee benefits and policies as well as employee engagement and an employee satisfaction survey.

Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP ranked #3 on the list of mid-sized companies (5o- 249 employees). CFR provides comprehensive advisory and compliance accounting and consulting services. CFR has offices in Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland and Winter Haven. The Winter Haven office is located in the heart of downtown, on Pope Avenue and was formerly Beckert, Price, & Rowse, P.A. (BPR & Company) and merged with C/F/R in 2008. BPR & Company was founded in 1980. With the addition of the Lakeland office in 2011, C/F/R is now the largest local firm in Polk County.

Lanier Upshaw Insurance & Risk Management ranked #31 on the list for mid-sized companies. Lanier Upshaw is a full service, independent insurance agency with a reputation for solving complex business problems. The company was founded in 1941 and they have offices in both Lakeland (1115 US Hwy 98 South) and Tampa. 

To view the full list of mid-sized companies click here.



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CSX Intermodal Facility Drawing Attention From Potential Tenants

Repost from Tampa Bay Business Journal

written by: Ashley Gurbal Kritzer

In the less than two weeks that David Murphy has been marketing the Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center to potential tenants, interest has been high — higher than anticipated.

Murphy, a senior vice president with CBRE Group Inc. in Orlando, said he’s had calls from a variety of industries — third-party logistics companies, retailers and commodity distributors.

“These users are seeking us out before we even had a flier done,” Murphy said Friday. “We don’t have a completed marketing flier and we’re getting calls from users asking about this project.”

Murphy, along with Kevin Hoover and Monica Wonus, were hired in early July by Winter Haven Industrial Investors LLC to market the 930 acres surrounding CSX Corp.’s intermodal terminal, which opened in April and is entitled for close to 8 million square feet of industrial development.

The facility — which moves freight between trucks and trains, with five 3,000-foot loading tracks and two 10,000-foot arrival and departure tracks — has the potential to bring thousands of new jobs to Central Florida. As retailers scramble for the fastest deliveries in the ecommerce race and all industries look for every possible efficiency in their supply chains, more will be looking to rail, Murphy said, which can be more cost effective than other modes of freight transportation.

Behind the development plans is a household name in industrial real estate: Mike Mullen, former CEO of CenterPoint Properties, who has developed some of the largest intermodal terminals in North America, the Joliet and Elwood, Ill., intermodal facilities outside of Chicago.

The city of Winter Haven sold the first phase of the industrial park land to Mullen’s Winter Haven Industrial Investors LLC for $8.5 million in early July, according to Polk County property records. The total investment in the park, Mullen has said, is expected to be close to $400 million.

The first phase of the park, a speculative 407,400-square-foot warehouse, is slated to break ground in October, Murphy said. He said his team is targeting large industrial users, with space requirements between 100,000 and 500,000 square feet.

“We would love to have companies already in Florida locate at this facility, and I think we’ll see that,” Murphy said. “What we’ve really been impressed with is large, well-known companies reaching out to us because they have intermodal locations in other cities and understand how it works.”

Murphy said asking rental rates on the property are around $4.75 per square foot including taxes, insurance and common area maintenance fees. The average asking lease rate in Polk County is $3.99 per square foot, according to CBRE second quarter data, but Murphy said he thinks that new construction, combined with access to the intermodal facility, will have no problem commanding a premium.

“I think what’s going to make this project so popular,” he said. “There may be a small premium to locate directly at the intermodal facility, but it will not be cost prohibitive.”

See original article here:

Posted in CSX - Winter Haven, Economic Development | 2 Comments

Uncovering the values & priorities of our future

Last Thursday I had the privilege to be a participant in the Central Florida Regional Leadership Forum – Connecting Our Shared Values with Our Shared Future. This event was hosted by the Central Florida Partnership, an organization that describes itself as a “collaborative of business and civic leaders committed to procuring a better tomorrow for Central Florida’s seven counties – Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia.”

We all know how influential Polk’s location is in the future development of the region. Both the Central Florida Partnership and the Tampa Bay Partnership include us in their region when they are discussing how progress and development occur. To wield this power, however, we have to be part of the conversation.

Last week’s forum reviewed the findings of a multi-phase research project to better understand the hearts and minds of residents of Central Florida, specifically as they relate to the values, priorities and future of the region. This information is to be used as our region considers who we are, what our responsibilities are and how we invest in a regional transportation system. Some of the answers were surprising – especially when your world routinely consists of strategy sessions about the greatest issues affecting our area (and the subjectivity and perception of the greatest issues). Here are a few of the highlights as they particularly relate to Polk County. Read the entire report here.

Sample size = 1, 026 people. 102 of those were from Polk County. Average telephone survey length was 28 minutes which is highly unusual. It demonstrates the level of interest in the topic. Participants were asked a variety of questions meant to reveal their true priorities.


1. People are hopeful.

On every version of the question, 60% or more people think we have an improving quality of life, believe their own community is headed in the right direction and site more positive attributes than negative when asked to describe the factors that affect quality of life. Eigthy-percent (80%) believe the local economy is improving or remaining stable.

2. Perceptions drive priorities.

When the researchers asked the question “What are the most important priorities for our region” they were surprised at the outcome. In meetings with community “leaders” prior to the research, not one leader highly prioritized what routinely came back as #1 on the citizen survey:

1. Reducing Crime and Making Neighborhoods Safer

2. More jobs that offer better pay, benefits and opportunities for advancement

2. Improve Education

The top personal priorities were: 

1. Jobs and Employment Opportunities

2. Safe and Secure Communities

3. Traffic Congestions


3. Priorities 

Ultimately they determined that their was a unique psychological connection between how survey respondents answered this questions and their personal priorities. The “mind map” showed that people first acknowledge the factor that impacts their quality of life. They then look at the functional benefits of each factor and then the emotional benefits. That leads to the final value determination of the personal value associated with the emotional development. For example:

Less traffic (factor that impacts quality of life) –> Saves Time (functional benefit) –> Do Other things (emotional benefit) –> Peace of Mind/Enjoyment (Value)

Click to enlarge mind mapping


4. So who is accountable? 

The survey determined that people have specific perception of who is responsible for certain issues (independent meaning non-profit/churches/etc):

Who's Responsable


5. They want increased investment for improved transportation. 

Perhaps what was most eye-opening was how respondents are willing to invest in improved transportation (which is of particular interest with the My Ride/My Roads ballot initiative Polk County will be voting on this fall). According to the survey, the strong majority (76%) support allocation of tax dollars to expanding and improving transportation. Of the Polk respondents, 50% want that increase in spending to come from existing funds and 34% want it to come from additional funding.

Screenshot 2014-06-25 22.45.54




Posted in Perspective | 3 Comments

Furry Friends Week Profile: Veterinary Healthcare Associates

On day #4 of Furry Friends Week we spotlight Veterinary Healthcare Associates located at 3025 Dundee Road, Winter Haven. Opened over thirty years ago as Maxwell Animal Clinic, VHA has grown from a one doctor general practice to a ten doctor general, referral, and emergency facility which has a reputation in Winter Haven and Central Florida for high quality pet care. For this week long appreciation celebration, we’ve asked them to share some details about their business with the membership.

What services does VHA offer? 

We are greater central Florida’s only General Practice, Referring, and 24 Hr Emergency Hospital offering Advanced Diagnostics, Internal Medicine, Echocardiography, Endoscopy/Bronchoscopy, Spiral CT scan, LASER Surgery, Full In House Laboratory, Advanced Pain Management, Boarding, Medical Boarding, Grooming, 3.5 acre Dog park, Digital Radiology & Ultrasound, Critical Care, Chemotherapy/Oncology, Dentistry, Stem Cell Therapy, and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

Tell us something not everyone knows about the practice 

Our mission statement is: “Helping People By Helping their Pets”. Veterinary Healthcare Associates has been voluntarily evaluated on hundreds of standards established by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), to ensure that patients and clients receive the highest level of care. VHA has been accredited in general practice since 2009 and as a referral practice in Canine and Feline Specialty since 2012. Only 15% of animal hospitals achieve this credential.

What goals do you have for the coming year?

We plan to continue to provide excellence in our level of care, expand our specialty referral services, and have our emergency services surpass our clients expectations.

How can the public help VHA? 

We want the public to be aware of our referring and emergency services, even if they have a general practice they usually attend.  We ask that they inform us upon check in and we will see to it that their general practice receives a referral report to ensure the pet’s records all remain with their veterinarian. VHA also has a non profit fund called VHA cares  if anyone would like to donate.

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Furry Friends Week Profile: Orchid Springs Animal Hospital

On day #3 of Furry Friends Week we spotlight Orchid Springs Animal Hospital, located at 615 Overlook Drive, Winter Haven. Orchid Springs was established in Winter Haven in 1996 by Dr. Mitsie Vargas. By 2002, the practice had greatly grown and Dr. Vargas expanded into a five thousand square-foot facility that includes a bone-shaped pool that was used for exercise, rehabilitation therapy and entertainment. In 2008, she further remodeled the original building to make room for a larger treatment area and added the luxury boarding rooms around the pool known as “The World Suites”. In 2014, a second veterinarian joined the staff, Dr. Laura Moisa, who is a native Winter Havenite. For this week long appreciation celebration, we’ve asked them to share some details about their business with the membership.

1. What services does Orchid Springs Animal Hospital offer?

Traditional medical services, general surgery acupuncture, aquapuncture, holistic medications, physical therapy, canine massage, comprehensive dentistry services, wellness plans, boarding, daycare and grooming, We also see exotic pocket pets.

2. Tell us something not everyone knows about the practice.

What someone may not know is that we actively promote the veterinary profession and encourage education of all our employees. Not only do we offer continuing education and skill development opportunities but Dr. Vargas sits on the FVMA veterinary technician committee as well. Dr. Vargas is also a recent addition to the Humane Society of Polk County Board of Directors.

3. What goals do you have for the coming year? 

Our goal is to solidify our presence in the community as a one-stop pet center for all of your pet’s needs.

 We also want to make people aware of our “We Love Pets Fund.” This fund was set up to help stray, abused and abandoned animals, as well as owners that are in a financial crisis, get the medical attention for their pets that need it. Tax deductible donations can be made at Log onto the website and select Orchid Springs Animal Hospital and your donation will be made to this special fund. For more information please contact Orchid Springs Animal Hospital at 863-324-6964.



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