Winter Haven, Florida, a city of approximately 40,000 in Polk County, was incorporated in 1911. It is located in the midst of Central Florida’s famous Chain of Lakes, a series of 24 lakes that lie at the headwaters of the Peace River basin. In the 1920s and ‘30s, the citrus industry expanded throughout the area, and thousands of acres of orange groves grew alongside many of their banks. Canals were built during that era, connecting the lakes to one another, in order to help move citrus from the outlying farms to the rail lines that ran through the middle of town.
In 1930, George Jenkins opened the first Publix “Food Store” in Winter Haven, and today, Publix Supermarkets, headquartered in nearby Lakeland, is one of the largest U.S. regional grocery chains in the U.S. with over 1,100 locations in seven states. During the 1930s and 1940s, citrus magnate, John A. Snively operated one of the largest fruit packing plants in the world in Winter Haven, and in 1936, America’s first theme park, Cypress Gardens, was created by Dick and Julie Pope. It ran for 73 years.
Today, Winter Haven finds itself in center of what is known as the “Florida Super Region,” an area that encompasses 15 counties and 7.2 million residents, generating $300 billion per year in economic activity – making it the 9th largest economy in the United States.
Katie Worthington, the President of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, is working hard to make sure that, going forward, the “Chain of Lakes City” continues to be the main economic engine of the Florida Super Region. And she believes that goal will best be accomplished by teamwork. “The thing that Winter Haven prides itself on the most is the collaboration between the different entities working on Winter Haven’s future,” she says. “We have a very intentional partnership among the Economic Development Council, the Chamber, Main Street Winter Haven, which is focused on the downtown core, the city government, and private sector businesses.”