How Economic Development Affects You
by Kevin Kieft, President/CEO of the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce
During any type of election you will hear potential office holders debate about the economy and of course “jobs, jobs, jobs”. If you are a person who works or consumes, you are part of the economy. So it stands to reason that we all do well when the economy does well, and the economy does well when we do well.
This very reason is why economic development is vital, especially to a small-town community like Lake Wales. Simply put, if there was no economy—no local job opportunities, no businesses to buy from, no banks to save your money, no taxes to fund our public services—then there would be no community—no Lake Wales!
So when I talk about economic development, I’m not merely discussing some nebulous concept that only wealthy economists care about. I am discussing a vital component of a functioning society, something that affects everyone from the CEO who owns a large warehouse employing 5,000 to a child saving their allowance to buy something nice for themselves.
So what is economic development? For this column, I’ll refer to the official definition from the International Economic Development Council. Economic development, according to their website, is “a set of programs and policies that aid in the creation, retention and expansion of jobs; the development of a stable tax base; and the enhancement of wealth.”
Simply put, economic development allows the local economy to grow so there are more businesses, more jobs, and—more importantly—more money in your pocket to spend on these local businesses and fund public amenities.
How do we create economic development? This question is fiercely debated by politicians. Some think economic growth is spurred by cutting taxes and regulations to allow businesses to better grow and flourish. Others believe economic growth is stimulated by increasing wages to provide workers more money to spend in the economy.
The answer is much more complicated. There is no single definition for economic development. There is no single strategy, policy, or program for achieving successful economic growth. There is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy that can be applied to every community. Every community is different, so every strategy towards achieving economic development will be different for every community.
To ensure our strategy for achieving economic development is successful, we here at the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and EDC collaborate with other members, businesses, and organizations in the community to learn about their needs and how best to fill them.
Economic development is a team effort. As such, we work closely with city and county officials, local business owners, landowners and developers, colleges and universities, and organizations such as the Main Street Association and other area Economic Development agencies. We work
together to determine the best course of action, and then conceive programs and policies to move that action forward.
So far, our approach toward economic development has proven successful. We have attracted many new big businesses, especially in manufacturing. Two new businesses include Pamlico Air and The Fence Outlet, both of which have created more than 100 to 200 jobs.
Another major development has been with the renewed focus on the downtown area. Through the Lake Wales Connected Plan, we are bound to see new renovations and improvements, especially along Park Avenue, to beautify our city streets and attract new businesses downtown.
Of course, as with any local economy, we also face many challenges. One major challenge when it comes to economic development is–as the old saying goes–location, location, location!
Many large businesses wish to relocate to areas with easy access to interstate highways. While Lake Wales exists on the intersection of Highway 27 and State Road 60, this location can prove problematic for some types of industries so we must always work to maintain and improve our infrastructure.
Perhaps the largest challenge is with industrial buildings and large tracts of land that is ready for development. New businesses require either land or vacant buildings to develop upon, and the bigger the business, the bigger the land or facility required. Additionally, we need land for housing, which in and of itself also proves to be a challenge.
Our challenges are many, but together we can face them. Through the cooperation of our business partners and public officials, we have been able to draft a plan tailor-made to grow our community economically.
Our board of directors is a mixed bag, a mix of local colleges and universities and businesses and service professionals and people who make things happen. It is the community taking care of itself and trying to make itself better. We could not do it without them. It is really an effort for all, and it takes everyone to make it happen.