LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — While being a ‘boomtown’ has its perks, it can also have its challenges.
A study released by Lending Tree ranked Lakeland as the nation’s third biggest ‘boomtown,’ citing housing growth, median earnings, and new employer identification numbers, which signifies the start of new businesses.
North Port ranked sixth.
“We have great city services. We have great open public spaces, many parks that people enjoy. I’m not surprised at all to hear that Lakeland has made the list as number three boomtown in the country,” said Shawn Sherrouse, Lakeland’s city manager.
City leaders must balance the cost of providing services with the need demanded by growth.
“Trying to utilize the tax base that we have now without increasing taxes any more than necessary, trying to keep our electric utility rates competitive is always our focus but with growth, oftentimes comes a little bit of pain and some of those increased costs to provide those services are part of the equation,” Sherrouse said.
According to the city, the population of Lakeland has increased by 20,000 since 2010, and nearly 5% since 2020.
“It’s not surprising that we were able to bounce back quicker because we weren’t as rooted in tourism like many places around Florida may be, but we’re more diverse in manufacturing and logistics and other types of industries,” said Katie Worthington Decker, senior vice president of the Lakeland Economic Development Council.
The study shows a 118% increase in new entrepreneurs in Lakeland in 2020-2021 compared to 2018-2019.
“Either you were forced into entrepreneurships through layoffs or many of us did those quality of life evaluations and decided wouldn’t it be great to be our boss? So it’s interesting to see that 118% growth in entrepreneurship,” said Worthington Decker.
Decker works out of Catapult, an incubator for entrepreneurs that offers resources and programs for start-ups in Lakeland.
Growth has also impacted school capacity, with Haines City High School having to turn away new students this school year.
Lakeland Regional Health continually ranks in the top two busiest ERs in the nation.
Polk County is having to re-examine how it supplies water for its residents and businesses in the future.
Traffic congestion is also a sore spot for residents.
“It’s gone from a nice little town to huge. You can’t get across town in less than 30 minutes and that’s if you know the shortcuts,” said Stephen Debats, who has lived in Lakeland for 61 years.
“I think it’s nice seeing the different faces but at the same time, it’s very overcrowded here. So everything seems like very clustered and takes a lot longer than it usually needs to be,” said Tecyra Smith, a Lakeland native.