Phillip Walker

By RJ and Bryelle Walters
Photography by Jordan Randall

Phillip Walker has been firmly ingrained in Lakeland so long that when he was a young boy Publix stores had donut shops in them instead of full-service bakeries.

He served as a Lakeland police officer early on in his career and then pivoted to a career in insurance, where he was the principal of a local Allstate for nearly 27 years.

He served as a Lakeland City Commissioner for 12 years and ran an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the Florida House in the 2022 election.

The Kathleen High School graduate rarely meets a stranger and is down to talk about everything from the French classes he took at Kathleen High to the outfit you are wearing to the nuts and bolts of the local economy.

In 2023, the Chamber of Commerce created a position for Walker that leans into his plethora of business and civic experiences, as well as his love for people.

As the Vice President of Partnerships and Research, the 70-year old leads initiatives that help the underserved and minority business communities, while keeping his heart and hands in the development of Lakeland as a whole. 


The Lakelander

What do you can currently see as the primary strengths and weaknesses of Lakeland’s economy?


Well, strengths are we have done very well to have some corporate centers here. How can we forget about Publix?  You can’t say anything about Lakeland without Publix. Others have done very well, even the medical profession. We’re talking about Lakeland Regional Health and Watson Clinic…and we’ve got Orlando Health and Advent Health coming into our community.

For weaknesses, I would say we still have to do our part to make sure we get the talent they need. In our school system…I was [recently] hearing the challenges and even success stories from [Superintendent] Dr. Heid about how well our schools are doing, but we need to make sure we have the talent to make that happen.

I think our trade (schools) are good, as well as our academies…but do we advertise that well? Do people really know that we have these particular academies in our school system to support everybody? Because not everybody’s going to go to college, but there are trades they can pick up and do very well with and make good money; look at electricians and plumbers and air conditioning people.

The Lakelander

Much of your life’s work has been advocating for diversity, inclusion and equity. What progress are you most proud to see that has taken place in the city in regards to the work you have been a part of? And then, what challenges are still most prevalent in our communities today?


I’m glad to see how we have embraced diversity, equity and inclusion. Some of the, I guess, negative kinds of comments that you hear—how that particular subject has taken a sort of a bad hit—should not be the case. I tell folks, we all play in the sand together, and unless I understand where you come from…at least we have that dialogue to understand one another and how we can make the place where we do live, work and play wholesome and then welcoming.  You can’t do that without inclusion…and if we’re still going to want to have this separate and that separate, it’s never going to work.

I think we’ve done our part here. Of course being off the city commission for a little over a year…[we were]  making sure that we do that, and we addressed challenges that we saw and made sure when we had problems we could say something.

I think it’s important that we have representation that mirrors the community.  Unfortunately—please don’t take this as a negative when I say this—when I look at my [city] commission, I don’t see that, when I look at my county commission I don’t see that, when I look at my state representation, I don’t see that. Well, what can we do? Do we have people who will fit the mold…or have the things that we need to have to make sure they can serve in these different positions? I think we have that, it’s just that sometimes I say, do we really want it?


The Lakelander

Many people are talking about how Downtown West is primed for growth. You have talked publicly in the past about growth without gentrification. How do you believe government officials and private individuals and entities can best accomplish this?


I would say it’s important to make sure we have conversations. I did say that, I guess, in one part of my closing comments to my former (city commission) colleagues: we don’t want to entrench upon communities that have been there for years. You have folks who live in those homes that have been…the center of that community. 

I would say that I thought what was done with Bonnet Springs Park [was great.] I can remember when that community was pretty much one of the black communities….as a young lad I can recall it was called Robinson Corners, and now of course the name is Crescent Heights, but there are still black families there. The [Bonnet Springs investors and developers] did their part to talk to those particular residents…and it brought about a more wholesome relationship, and I think we need to do that with Downtown West. Let’s have some conversations.  


The Lakelander

What is your advice to young people about getting involved in the community to make a difference?


I think it’s gonna take young people to do it. First of all… we need to make sure our young people know about this community. If you want to get involved and find out what’s going on in Lakeland, I tell folks two calendars you need to go look at: the Chamber calendar and the City of Lakeland calendar. When folks tell me sometimes, especially the younger ones, there is nothing to do, I say, “Where do you live?” Because I think if you check both of those calendars and see what’s going on, you find interesting things happening, and young people can get involved because they can join different boards and committees to get involved with the city and what’s going on in our community. 


The Lakelander

What do you think smart growth looks like in Lakeland?


We cannot and should not think Lakeland will not grow—it’s going to grow. But we have to make sure it grows to support what we need, like transportation solutions to take care of traffic. You have to have proper infrastructure in place…we hear all the time about traffic in Lakeland…so how can we make sure we get people to be able to traverse and get around this city properly? I think we’re on the right path…but it’s not going to come overnight. 

To have smart growth develop properly we need to make sure we’re not just “boom”, get it done quick…we need to be looking at the pros and cons of whatever we’re doing.


The Lakelander

How do you use some of that mindset you’re talking about to strengthen the community through your work at the Chamber of Commerce?


I’ve always had the gift of gab. I don’t meet a stranger. I’ll come up to you and say, ‘Hello, how you doing Miss Bryelle?’ And I’d see you have swan earrings and compliment them, or something like that to start the conversation that is welcoming. That’s what I do in my position at the Chamber because in my position there…Ms. Amy Wiggins created the position to be, as it’s called, Vice President of Partnerships and Research. 

We [receive] dollars from the city to support a couple of groups that came to Lakeland. They did well on the east side of us and the west side of us…Tampa being west and Orlando being east…with small businesses of color…and women in business. My role was to work with our city, who those dollars came from for those two particular groups to get into and get involved in our Lakeland community to help support these businesses. We’ve found it to be very successful…and people now know about Prospera, which is the Hispanic kind of flavor and BBIC (Black Business Investment Corp.) was the black kind of flavor. And the Chamber also created the Women in Business Council to support businesses. I always say I’m a connector…and I thank God I can pick up the phone and call you…and listen and bring suggestions to share. I value that, and it’s been good for me.

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