A Community Conversation

By: Steve Scruggs
September 25, 2017

Over the past 30+ years in my job at The Lakeland Economic Development Council, we have typically focused on communicating with our 140 members, key City of Lakeland contacts and our local newspaper, The Ledger.  This strategy had always been effective and worked for us.  We thrived in an environment of working behind the scenes and giving credit to others.

A number of community issues, the ever-increasing speed in which information is shared and public opinion is shaped, has caused us to reconsider our communication strategy.  We are not just thinking about how we communicate, but who needs to know, and when they need to know it.

As an organization, we have been testing new communication and marketing strategies through Catapult & YLakeland:

LEDC, on the other hand, as mentioned above, has not changed its communication strategy in 30 years, other than adding a Facebook page to promote our members a few years ago.  This may seem odd to anyone who is not an LEDC member, but to us, it made a lot of sense.  Much of the work we do for the companies we attract, and serve, is confidential.

Confidentiality will continue to be the “norm” for us with regards to our day to day business as it relates to recruiting and retaining new and expanding businesses.  Having said that, helping create jobs is only a portion of what we do.

Almost as important as creating jobs, is helping create the infrastructure in our community to support those jobs.  Infrastructure can be anything from utilities and roads to creating opportunities for internships and entry level jobs for our 17,000+ college students to supporting lifestyle entrepreneurs that are building 3rd spaces (between work & home) that all of us want to experience.

That brings us to why the LEDC is going to change its communication strategy.  We believe we need to have an ongoing community conversation about Lakeland’s infrastructure.  Those conversations don’t just need to be between the LEDC and City Hall.  What do you want your community to look like?  Where do you want us to invest our time, talents and treasures?

Do you like what you see in Downtown Lakeland?  Do you want it to grow?  Does our City need a Master Plan?  Do you want Commercial Air Service at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport?  Do you want gigabit internet speeds?  What about Public Education, is it working for you and your family?

In future blogs, we would like to tell you why these issues are important, or not important, from an Economic Development perspective.  We are not experts on all of these topics, nor do we plan to tell you, or the City, how you should think, or what you should do.  We will however, share with you how these issues affect our efforts to create jobs, and more importantly, high-skill, high-wage jobs in our community.

We believe it is time for the LEDC to get out of its comfort zone with regards to communicating with our community beyond our membership.  This will be uncomfortable, so bear with us as we learn to navigate in this world of instant feedback and opinions.

We are ready to change our mindset (set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by one or more people or groups of people) and write a new narrative (a spoken or written account of connected events, a story) with regards to how the LEDC communicates with our community.

I was recently listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s 1971 hit song  “If you could read my mind” and thought that that is exactly what I have been doing for most of my adult life here at the LEDC, expecting people to read my mind.  It’s time to shift the paradigm, here, you will find what’s on my mind, and the LEDC’s, with regards to the issues facing our community.

Would you join us on this journey?  Would you be willing to listen and share your thoughts?  We are ready to be vulnerable, lets’ start the conversation.  We look forward to hearing from you.  Steve…

If you have questions, concerns or comments you don’t want to share publicly please feel free to call me at the office at 863-687-3788.

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