Plus, a local eatery expands.
February 12, 2024 6AM-Top banner logo-small.png


Today’s Forecast

83º | Clear | 15% chance of rain
Sunrise 7:08 a.m. | Sunset 6:16 p.m.

Movin’ on up
The downtown Lakeland viewed from across Lake Mirror. Clouds in the sky cast shadows over the lake and the mix of high and medium-rise buildings, including the Lakeland Electric building.
Lakeland continues to gain recognition from national publications. | Photo by Reader Bob K. (submitted for our 2023 Picture of the Year contest)
Lakeland is gaining national recognition once again for its growing economy. The Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank, has included the Lakeland-Winter Haven area in its 2024 Best-Performing Cities list. The list ranks 400+ US cities based on 13 economic factors, dividing the list by ranking tiers and small vs. large cities.

So, how did Lakeland fare on this year’s list? Short answer: very well. Lakeland-Winter Haven ranked No. 30 out of 200 large cities, outranking places like Las Vegas and Philadelphia. It gained six spots after ranking No. 36 last year. Let’s break down a few of the economic indicators that contributed to the ranking, by the numbers. (Spoiler: Lakeland saw increases in every category.)


The report considers wage and job increases as part of a city’s labor market performance. Lakeland-Winter Haven ranked No. 4 for medium-term job growth this year, up from No. 6 in the 2023 report.
  • Job growth, 2017-2022: No. 4 — 20.1% increase
  • Wage growth, 2017-2022: No. 13 — 49.2% increase
An aerial rendering of the Applied Research Center at Florida Polytechnic University in what could be the new Central Florida Innovation District

Polk County produced $200 million in GDP from its tech sector in 2020.


Rendering by HOK

High-tech impact

When it comes to economic growth, the high-tech sector can’t be underestimated. The Milken Institute measured high-tech concentration and gross domestic product (GDP), which is the total of goods + services produced by a local high-tech industry.
  • High-tech GDP growth, 2017-2022: No. 13 — 56.9% increase
  • High-tech GDP growth, 2021-2022: No. 25 — 11.3% increase

Economic opportunity

This category looked at the economic well-being of community members, including how factors like housing and income inequality impact their access to economic opportunities.
  • Households with affordable housing: No. 125 — 67.5%
  • Households with broadband internet: No. 124 — 91%
Learn more about how rankings were decided, and see the results of 400+ more cities on this interactive map.
Monday, Feb. 12
  • After School Art | Monday, Feb. 12 | 4:30-5:30 p.m. | Polk Museum of Art, 800 E. Palmetto St., Lakeland | $0-$5 | Parents and children can learn a new art medium during each week of this series.
Tuesday, Feb. 13
  • Celebration of Black Jazz Composers Concert | Tuesday, Feb. 13 | 7:30-9 p.m. | Branscomb Auditorium at Florida Southern College, 1100 Johnson Ave., Lakeland | Free | The FSC Jazz Program will feature classic compositions.
Wednesday, Feb. 14
  • Salsa y Bachata Class | Wednesday, Feb. 14 | 6:15-8 p.m. | Coleman-Bush Building, 1104 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Lakeland | $10 | Learn popular Latin dances, then show off your moves in a social dance at Munn Park.
Thursday, Feb. 15
  • Jukebox Bingo & The Aquarian Market | Thursday, Feb. 15 | 5-9 p.m. | The Yard on Mass, 802 N. Massachusetts Ave., Lakeland | Free entry | Listen for songs on your bingo card to win $10 off your tab, and find vegan food + goods at the market.
Friday, Feb. 16
  • “Urinetown the Musical” | Friday, Feb. 16-Sunday, Feb. 25 | Times vary | Buckner Theatre at Florida Southern College, 1100 Johnson Ave., Lakeland | $10-$20 | Urine for a treat with this musical comedy performed by FSC students.
Saturday, Feb. 17
  • Black History Festival | Saturday, Feb. 17 | 10 a.m.-2 p.m. | Jackson Park, 1104 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Lakeland | Free entry | Celebrate Black History Month with vendors, food trucks, and family activities in the park, plus history exhibits inside the Coleman-Bush Building.
Click here to have your event featured.
We’re fired up about Ribs on the Ridge happening this weekend
a man barbecues ribs on an open grill outside with people in the background
Pitmasters will gather from across the country to show off their skills + fill the air with the sweet smell of barbecue. | Photo via Unsplash
Make no mis-steak, LAL — these pitmasters have a license to grill.

In the third + final leg of the Florida Triple Crown of BBQ’s three-event competition, talented pitmasters will come together to vie for some major bragging rights for being crowned the best barbecuer around.

Happening this Friday, Feb. 16-Saturday, Feb. 17 in Haines City, Ribs on the Ridge will treat guests to:
  • Live music + food trucks
  • Kids activities
  • Select purchases of competition eats
  • Florida Triple Crown of BBQ winner announcement + competition culmination festivities
News Notes
  • Have you noticed the new changes at Publix GreenWise Market? The EATS section was removed, and signage at the entrance says that more is coming soon. Publix announced that all GreenWise Market locations would become traditional supermarkets in May 2023, but a timeline is TBA.
  • KPOT Korean BBQ & Hot Pot announced plans to open on Monday, Feb. 19 in Lakeside Village. The all-you-can-eat restaurant will be open daily for lunch and dinner — see the hours + prices.

  • $56,300. That’s the median earnings of first-year Florida Polytechnic University graduates. The STEM-focused school ranked No. 1 on a list comparing the earnings of all Florida public college grads.
  • The Junior League of Greater Lakeland will host a Rosa Parks tour + tribute with Citrus Connection on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 10 a.m. The tour departs from the Gow Fields Park & Ride (at the corner of US 98 North and Pyramid Parkway). Round-trip rides are $3.
  • Uncle Nick’s Italian Deli announced plans to expand its location at 6955 Old Hwy. 37. In a conversation with The Big Max Morning Show, owner Sam DeBellis shared that the deli will expand into the 800-sqft storefront next door in April, adding gelato + bakery items.
  • Move with determination to pursue your dreams. That’s the theme at Central Florida SCORE’s Be Fearless event in honor of Women’s History Month. Taking place at The Well on Wednesday, March 6, 9-11 a.m., the $25 event will feature a keynote speaker and panel of local leaders.
  • Pop Rocks pickles, Barbie funnel cakes, and chocolate-dipped strawberry lemonade are all on the menu at the Florida State Fair this year. Luckily, our friends at TBAYtoday tried them out so we don’t have to — we mean, so we know what to expect.
  • Did you know pit bulls and other “bully breeds” are more likely to end up on shelter euthanasia lists? Enter: Polk County Bully Project. Find out what our second Publix Giveback Giveaway winner is doing to save high-risk dogs — and see how you can help by adopting, fostering, donating, or volunteering.*
  • In our latest edition of LALtoday Wellness in partnership with Lakeland Regional Health: 10 local ways to show some love this February, new multiuse recreation trail, 2024 Polk Senior Games, and more. Read the full newsletter.*
  • Discover a brighter financial future with Money Pickle, your gateway to personalized financial advice. Connect with vetted financial advisors, handpicked to provide fiduciary guidance that directly aligns with your goals for investments, retirement, and beyond. Schedule your complimentary video consultation.*
Give us your Plant City picks
Grab a strawberry shortcake + a new plant at Parkesdale Market. | Photo by
There’s so much to explore in the towns near Lakeland — better yet, you can reach them without having to refill your gas tank. So far, we’ve shared guides to Winter Haven + Bartow, and next up is Plant City.

We’re looking to share reader recommendations you can use if you visit during Florida Strawberry Festival season. All we need are your favorite activities, restaurants, coffee shops, or attractions. Fill out our survey with your pro tips and can’t-miss attractions — they might be featured in our upcoming guide.
The Buy
Beats Studio Buds, because you deserve an earbud upgrade. The Beats buds use active noise canceling technology for an immersive sound experience. Bonus: They’re sweat and water resistant, aka your new best gym buddy.
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The Wrap
Connor-Keith-Headshot-LAL Today’s edition by:
From the editor
I spent Friday night in Plant City catching a Swan City Improv show at Krazy Kup. If you haven’t visited, I recommend this coffee shop for its eclectic vibe and performances in its upstairs space — and you have to try the cranberry + chocolate biscotti.
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