Lakeland is a city in Florida’s Polk County, along Interstate 4 east of Tampa, and is part of the Tampa Bay Area. According to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Lakeland has a population of just over 100,000.

The Lakeland-Winter Haven Metropolitan Statistical Area, meanwhile, has an estimated population of about 623,000., based on data from the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

History of Lakeland

Lakeland was first settled in the 1870s and began to develop as the rail lines reached central Florida in 1884. The town was founded by Abraham Munn, who purchased 80 acres in what is now downtown Lakeland in 1882. It was named for the many lakes near the town site.

During the Spanish–American War, Lakeland took on a crucial role as a launching point for U.S. military forces, housing over 9,000 troops.

The Florida boom of the early 20thcentury resulted in the construction of numerous significant structures in Lakeland, many of which are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This list includes the Terrace Hotel, the New Florida Hotel, Polk Theatre, Frances Langford Promenade, and the Park Trammell Building (formerly the Lakeland Public Library and today the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce). In the mid-1930s, the Works Progress Administration built the Lakeland Municipal Airport.

Florida Southern College in Lakeland is the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world, attracting 30,000 visitors each year. In 2012, Wright’s campus was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

Since 1934, the Detroit Tigers have trained at Lakeland’s Joker Marchant Stadium.

Lakeland is governed by a six-member city council. Four of these members are elected from single-member districts while the other two are elected at-large. The mayor is also elected.

Economy of Lakeland

Large industries in the Lakeland area are citrus, cattle, and phosphate mining. Tourism, medicine, insurance, transportation, and music have grown over the past few decades.

Lakeland’s largest employer is Publix Supermarkets. Publix is one of the largest regional grocery chains in the United States with over 1,000 stores across the American South. Publix employs over 6,500 people in the Lakeland area including headquarter and warehouse employees.

FedEx Freight and FedEx Services and the Saddle Creek Corporation employ over 600 people in the area. Other large employers in the area include Amazon, GEICO, Rooms To Go, and Lakeland Regional Medical Center.

Southeastern University is the largest university in the area, with an enrollment of around 2,800. Florida Southern College, established in 1883, boasts an enrollment of just over 2,000.

In July 2008, the University of South Florida’s Lakeland campus was granted partial autonomy by Governor Charlie Crist to become Florida Polytechnic University. Florida Polytechnic is located just inside Lakeland’s northeast border at the intersection of I-4 and Polk Parkway. Everest University and Keiser University are two multisite, accredited universities, with locations in Lakeland. Webster University offers on-site, regionally accredited graduate degree programs in business and counseling at their Lakeland Metropolitan Campus.

Lakeland’s Drug Problem

Although community and public health leaders have been working for years to improve Polk County’s statistics, the numbers and rates for 2016 have not budged much.

Polk County residents are more likely to die as infants, under age 65, of common diseases, and of unintentional injury, including motor vehicle crashes and drug overdoses, than residents statewide. The county’s death rates are higher than statewide rates for heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia.

Heroin use has skyrocketed in Florida over the past decade, and statewide death rates caused by heroin overdose jumped more than 120 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to the Florida Medical Examiner’s 2014 report. Polk County has not been spared. The Lakeland Police Department reported in the Lakeland Ledgera “significant increase” in how much their officers dealt with heroin in 2016.

Polk is one of several counties in central Florida that qualify as High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) under the U.S. Congressional Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. This means that Polk is a significant center of illegal drug manufacturing, production, importation, and distribution. It also means that the county’s law enforcement agencies have spent resources responding to drug trafficking issues and that drug-related activities have impacted the area.

Law enforcement agencies have in the past reported that methamphetamine remains the greatest drug threat in their jurisdiction. It should be noted that, in 2010, more than 60 percent of all methamphetamine laboratory seizures in central Florida region occurred in Polk County.