If you were asked to tell the story of Winter Haven community growth, what would you say?
We have a few ideas, so today we kick off a series of posts to explore just that. First, a snapshot of how we got to where we are now; second, the story of partnerships that helped get us here; and third, what the future story might look like.
To start, when we talk about the Winter Haven community, we’re not simply looking geographically in terms of city limits. We are also focusing on the senseof community that has developed over time as individuals and organizations with vision have made decisions that have helped move us forward. The intentional efforts of many of those partners led the way for Winter Haven’s resurgent growth.
We all know that Winter Haven is centrally located, has beautiful natural resources, and benefits from a diverse and growing economy. That’s part of the explanation for our area’s high growth rate – people want to live and work here.
Let’s look at some recent statistics that describe Winter Haven’s rate of growth:
- In the 2018 Forbes List of Fastest-Growing Cities, the Winter Haven-Lakeland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) ranked 14th, up from 18th the previous year. Growth indicators used in this ranking include population, wages, and jobs.
- From 2010 to 2018, Winter Haven had the highest numerical population change in the county (29thin the state).
- City of Winter Haven building permit activity has been steadily increasing, with residential growth particularly strong – 2018 saw 781 one- and two-family residential permits issued.
- Permit construction value increased from $179,445,638 in 2017 to $320,482,457 in 2018.
What are some of the reasons for this growth?
Certainly, a strong economy plays a part. In addition, the City of Winter Haven (City) has made investments in a variety of areas, including the library, downtown parking garage, streetscapes, and Central Park. The City’s efforts in capital projects have been a big boost to growth. For downtown Winter Haven, City investment encouraged additional private investment. Katie Worthington Decker, President/CEO of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce has witnessed the results of those actions. “The City’s investment in the downtown core changed the attitude of what was happening downtown,”Decker says. “Those big investments trickle down to the individual business owner feeling more confident and taking the risk to reinvest.” In recent years, public improvements in downtown Winter Haven have resulted in more than $50 million in private investment.
Another key to success emerges in conversations with city leaders and community partners – the collaborative nature of partners in both the public and private sectors to achieve community goals. For example, the Winter Haven Economic Development Council (WHEDC) and the City regularly communicate on matters benefiting Winter Haven citizens and businesses. The WHEDC may share the interests of the private market with the City, which in turn is responsive on issues that align with the City’s goals. Bruce Lyon, WHEDC President, believes these discussions are critical. “Communication, combined with having the right people in the right positions, has helped grow the health of Winter Haven’s economy,” Lyon says. “A high level of engagement both personally and professionally helps create synergy and meaningful outcomes for our community.”
Mike Herr, Winter Haven City Manager, is proud of Winter Haven’s innovative City government, and its commitment to investing in the community. Through collaboration and communication, the City works with strong business partners and community partners, including the WHEDC, the Chamber, and Main Street Winter Haven. Herr describes it this way, “The business climate is created by the community partners and a City Commission that is willing to facilitate. Resolving differences through communication allows us to put the community first.”
As you think about this snapshot of how we are growing and evolving, compare it with your own stories about Winter Haven. Whether you’ve been a big or small part of this journey, everything matters.
Positive, smart Winter Haven community growth is happening thanks to a climate of economic optimism and collaboration between partners. The Winter Haven community, whether defined geographically or socially, is a place people want to be, and a place we are proud to call home.
In future posts in this series, we will explore some of the partnerships and what the future holds.