My general belief is Tampa thinks Polk County should be landfills, prisons and things they don't want. I don't see our future that way.
Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, Polk County
Is this Polk County paranoia channeled through its most bullying and unapologetic legislator?
If so, Central Florida's broader economic ambitions may be in trouble.
Alexander expressed his animosity toward neighboring Tampa on Monday in an interview with Tampa's WTSP-Ch. 10. No surprise, he was responding to University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft's remarks at the Tiger Bay Club of Polk County.
As Senate budget committee chairman, Alexander this spring threatened deep USF budget cuts and ramrodded through a personal quest to sever Lakeland's USF Polytechnic campus from the University of South Florida umbrella. The goal: to accelerate its becoming the state's 12th separate university, a theoretical coup for Polk County.
Alexander's arm-twisting of USF may well get Polk its own Florida Polytechnic University. The state senator may have won but at the cost of a prolonged accreditation process for the new school and some seriously damaged relations with Tampa Bay.
So is Alexander just a selfish legislator pressing for something before term limits push him out of Tallahassee? Or is his power grab a chance to squeeze Tampa Bay and bolster Polk's no doubt frustrating lack of regional identity?
Polk County lies smack dab between Tampa Bay and greater Orlando with Interstate 4 running straight through it. Lately, Polk is realizing it's less a doormat and more a gateway between two major metro areas now talking to each other about how best to morph into one Central Florida economic region.
That really makes Polk two counties. Western Polk — which includes the county's biggest city, Lakeland, and one of Florida's top businesses, Publix Super Markets — has ties to Tampa Bay. Eastern Polk lies adjacent to the outskirts of Disney's parks.
Polk is also home to Legoland Florida and the Streamsong Resort built by phosphate mining giant Mosaic.
As far back as 1995, Polk County joined the Tampa Bay Partnership as the sixth county of the regional economic development group. Polk also happens to be one of seven counties that make up the Central Florida Partnership, the Orlando area's own economic development group.
Shrewdly, Polk is the only county that belongs to both regional groups.
Alexander's suggestion Monday — that snooty Tampa saw Polk as little more than a dumping ground for undesirables like landfills — might have some truth to it.
But the remark did nothing to mend already bruised relations between neighboring regions. Tampa Bay's business and political leaders fought hard to support USF against Alexander's browbeating.
"I'm going to stand up strong for my district and its needs every day," Alexander told WTSP. "Whether folks in the Tampa establishment think it is a good idea or not for Polk County does not really matter to me."
Wow. Is this the best we can do? While we club each other like Neanderthals, the rest of the rubbernecking world will (gladly) pass us by.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]