Could This Be Our Best Year Yet?

What has for some time remained a quaint, warm, welcoming city has seemed to waken up to something new this last decade.

Lakeland has long been the city so many call home. And for good reason. It’s where you get a helping hand with a cart full of groceries well past dinnertime. It’s where you can get a genuine smile walking the lake, even at six o’clock in the morning. It’s a place that continues to hold to the same remnants of nostalgia and little nuances once captured on a cult classic film years ago. (Driving past your local Publix tucked under that same Southgate sign maintains this constant reminder.) It is the idyllic place to raise a family, one that is familiar and comfortable . . . but not so comfortable as to shy away from a possible future that can come only through change.

This city remains a champ at maintaining the simple pleasures of life. But while it’s a comfortable climate to settle into, and a steady pace to age, Lakeland’s not quite done growing up. Not just yet.

It has kept an open mind to the ever-developing ways of life.

A fresh stream of entrepreneurs, developers, and thinkers are quickly changing the way we work, the way we taste food, the way we spend time with
friends and family, and, in retrospect, the way we view life here. Everything from restaurateurs, nonprofit ventures, Saturday morning markets, and technical design schools continue to cause visionaries to gravitate here — or, possibly, the city to evoke bold inspirations.

In the past two years alone, Lakeland has seen growth through an expansion of local businesses. Without tainting its historic quality, Dixieland has developed the outskirts of downtown as it continues to boost the business of Florida Avenue with new stores packed with of-the-moment trends, numerous gathering spaces, and what some would consider the best coffee shops in Florida.

Not only have new ventures and fine dining, both downtown and throughout, filled these spaces in recent years, but compassionate movements continue to evolve this city’s definition of community. Creative efforts have spurred concrete and effective philanthropic concepts, providing opportunities to disadvantaged and financially strained families throughout the area. Without much hesitation, such efforts are quickly supported by a growing network of city grants and personal donations.

As a city, Lakeland has birthed a creative network, fueling a community of start-ups long before our city created a place just for them. Now, to meet the momentum of driven self-starters at this cultural shift, combined efforts between Lakeland Economic Development Council, the GiveWell Community Foundation, and the city are in motion with Catapult 2.0. The expansion and relocation of Catapult, a coworking space to equip and launch entrepreneurs, is set to open January 2018. Already its waiting list has reached its cap.

Brimming with developmental and cultural expansion at nearly any glance, this rapid growth will no doubt have a ripple effect on every facet of life in this city.

Though, as much as there is to anticipate for the future of Lakeland, there are surely some things that will never change.

Those swans aren’t going anywhere.