Growing up in Polk County, Ingram Leedy found himself spending most of his free time learning computers.

Now, Leedy sees the area as an emerging player in Florida business.

The recent additions of the Legoland theme park and CSX Intermodal Logistics Center make Winter Haven a formidable alternative to Lakeland. The city even rivals the two major cities for which Winter Haven has served as a commuter hub — Tampa and Orlando.

"It means more people investing in the community," the 45-year-old said.

The biggest challenge now for Leedy and other community leaders is convincing the area's younger population to stick around. One possible attraction is the Inland Fiber and Data Technology Park.

Leedy is a partner at the park, which is now searching for tenants for 19,000 square feet left vacant by Sprint (NYSE: S) and 14,000 square feet coming free once a financial institution leaves in spring.

Leedy said he's housed his Protected Trust LLC data protection company at the park for more than 15 years. This year, he added Port Tampa Bay as a client.

He doesn't worry about flooding, avoids big city distractions, enjoys cheap cost of living, hires interns from Polk State College and accesses one of the fastest Internet speeds in the state thanks to the number of service providers housed there.

The park will reach a 100 gigabit connection, the fastest commercially available, this year through the Florida LambdaRail fiber provider, Leedy said.

Sprint left during a bout of downsizing for the telecommunications company. The financial company, unnamed in the Jan. 12 release, is moving because of an acquisition.

Carl J. "Bud" Strang III, who also grew up in Polk County, heads Six/Ten LLC, the company running the park.

Strang said he and Leedy are trying to help the community through Florida Polytechnic University's foundation and the city's economic development council.

"With all of this investment and interest in Winter Haven, we stepped up our efforts," the 58-year-old said.


Story by Wade Tyler Millward