A Network at the CORE of Building a Stronger Business Community in Polk County

By Diego De Jesus

Lakeland is well known for its growing, hard-working community of entrepreneurs who are always looking for opportunities to improve their businesses. 

Enter into that landscape CORE Network Group, whose mission is growing networks of industry specific professionals who collaboratively provide pathways for other entrepreneurs to grow business through connection, referrals and shared learning opportunities.

CORE is an acronym for Connections, Opportunity, Referral and Expansion. These are the four areas that the organization’s founders stressed when establishing CORE last year. 

And these are values that co-founders Lacey Gardner, Stephanie Hoskins, Brandi Morris and Laura Gaida continue to emulate in their networking conglomerate. The camaraderie is evident among the co-founders as they all have distinct personalities and professional experiences that fit together quite seamlessly.

Gardner, a licensed insurance agent, is the founder and a natural networker who developed the concept. She started building the framework in February 2022 and conducted the first CORE meeting three weeks later.

“I wasn’t building the group to make money off it,” Gardner says. “I was building the group to have the right network of people I needed in my business, which has evolved. Now I have a system that has been built with some really great minds, and we’ve really, I wouldn’t say perfected it, but we found something that works.” 

The organization is divided into chapters that have a maximum of 40 members each—with professionals from a wide range of industries and with different expertise in each group, so the members can lean into and lean on each other to grow their businesses.

There are currently two Lakeland chapters, and one was recently established in Winter Haven. Each group meets weekly for an hour with an agenda designed to benefit all their members.

“It’s all about action, and that’s the foundation of what CORE is for our members. It’s about action. It’s about saying what you’re going to do and doing what you’re going to say,” Gardner continued.”

Part of the success of CORE is transparent communication and networking with trustworthy compatriots that build the organization’s foundation, Gardner remarks.

These aspects of CORE are reflected in the founders themselves since they have their respective roles based on their professional backgrounds. As mentioned, Gardner developed the concept for the organization. Hoskins, the co-founder and owner of Good Intents Marketing, LLC,  handles digital marketing for CORE.  Morris, co-owner of All Alarm Services of Central Florida, does the business documentation and paperwork while Gaida, a mortgage loan officer with Compass Mortgage, keeps tabs on membership processes and policies. 

Membership is booming, with almost 100 local business owners now part of groups that help business owners network and garner referrals that grow, and in some cases revive, their businesses.

As CORE expands, the founders are expanding their horizons to establish future chapters. 

“We would like to be able to offer CORE as a package where people could start their own CORE in their community if they see the need,” Hoskins says. “So that’s one thing we’re trying to package right now and go to market with.”

To learn more about CORE, find out about membership pricing and/or see openings in local chapters, visit corelakeland.com