By John Ceballos
The Ledger
Published: Thursday, August 20, 2015 at 4:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 20, 2015 at 4:35 p.m.
LAKELAND — End-of-year bonuses, financial support for continuing education and leisurely company outings.

Best Places to Work winners
SMALL BUSINESSES (one to 50 employees)

Clark Environmental, Inc.; CPS Investment Advisors; Heacock Insurance Group; Lunz Prebor Fowler Architects; Madrid Engineering Group; OMS Group; Rita Staffing; Spherion Staffing.

MEDIUM BUSINESSES (51 to 250 employees)

A-C-T Environmental & Infrastructure; Allen & Company of Florida; Citizens Bank & Trust; Florida Presbyterian Homes; Lanier Upshaw; Mizkan Americas; Treatt .

LARGE BUSINESSES (251 employees and up)

Coca-Cola Refreshments; Legoland Florida Resort; MidFlorida Credit Union; Sykes Enterprises, Inc.; Walmart Distribution Center 6071.

EMPLOYERS OF DISTINCTION (companies who have received Best Places to Work honors for three consecutive years)

ArrMaz; Center for Retina and Macular Disease; Clark & Daughtery; Florida’s Natural Growers; Kegel LLC; Polk County Board of County Commissioners; Polk County Clerk of Courts; The Estates at Carpenters; W.S. Badcock Corporation.

— John Ceballos
Those are some employee perks that earned the latest crop of Best Places to Work award winners a place at the podium.

On Thursday, CareerSource Polk handed out prizes to the local businesses that were successful in motivating and retaining workers, implementing training and development initiatives, and fostering a healthy work-life balance.

“You are indeed a very positive reflection of what Polk County has to offer,” said Stacy Campbell-Domineck, president and CEO of CareerSource Polk, to the winners.

More than 700 business and community leaders attended CareerSource Polk’s annual meeting and Best Places to Work Awards ceremony at The Lakeland Center.

The organization — formerly Polk Works — established the awards in 2003, and local businesses are evaluated through employee surveys and by a panel of judges after submitting applications.

In addition to the awards, staff members from CareerSource Polk — a nonprofit that oversees federal funds dedicated to establishing a skilled workforce — shared some of the organization’s highlights from the last year.

CareerSource Polk provided 486,062 services to job seekers, according to the organization’s 2014-15 annual report.

Ashley Brungard, a job readiness instructor, said those services included September’s P5Xemployment preparation initiative. Together with human resource and workforce professionals, CareerSource Polk offered services that included mock interviews, resume assistance and social media training. Nearly 100 P5X participants landed a job within six months.

The organization also works closely with employers in the area.

Larry Madrid is the president of the Bartow-based Madrid Engineering Group (MEG), which previously featured sinkhole evaluation services as its primary income source. Madrid said rule changes related to sinkhole insurance coverage left his company in crisis in 2012.

CareerSource Polk helped guide the way in helping refocus MEG.

“My company is extremely grateful to CareerSource Polk for their assistance over the past few years,” said Madrid, whose company was named as one of the best places to work. “They were there to help us to retrain our staff to work on projects other than sinkholes.”

Individual awards were handed out to a pair of CareerSource Polk board members.

Diana Simmons of Butterfly Bistro received The Hammer Award recognizing personal time and effort dedicated to the organization’s initiatives and Michael Micalleff of Sunshine Bank won The Larry Miller Award given to board members who have demonstrated an overwhelming commitment to workforce development.

Wells Fargo also won The Workforce Champion Award, given to an employer, individual or organization for their efforts to support Polk’s workforce system.

By Kaitlyn Pearson

The Ledger
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 6:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 6:53 p.m.
LAKELAND — A few good men are helping those with communication difficulty get medical help regardless of their ability to pay.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Sept. 12

WHERE: Sun ‘n Fun Florida Air Museum, 4175 Medulla Road, Lakeland

COST: $60

ATTIRE: Cocktail

Mr. Central Florida contestants
These are the Everyday Heroes who are in the contest:

Chief Charles Bird, Winter Haven Police Department

Michael Ehlenbeck, CPS Financial Advisors

Troy Garcia, CWS financial adviser, Allen & Company

Ramon Gonzalez, medical training officer, Polk County Fire Rescue

Richie Johnson, purchasing manager, Southern Homes

Lt. Col. Scott LaRonde, professor of military science, Florida Southern College

Kenneth Reddick, assistant superintendent, Polk County School District

Sgt. James L. Ring, Lakeland Police Department

Dr. Carlos Romero, M.D., internal medicine, Romero Medical Plaza

Steve Senn, Peterson & Meyers, P.A.

Cpt. Dave Simpson, senior Army instructor, Lake Wales High School

Chris Walker, firefighter paramedic, Lakeland Fire Department

Mike Woodhouse, commercial risk consultant, Lanier Upshaw
Of the more than 230 children the Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center sees each week, 98 percent need help paying for care, said Debbie Burdett, vice president of community engagement for the center.

“We absolutely do not turn anyone away when they come here for speech and hearing needs,” Burdett said.

To offset the cost of treatment, the center is hosting its third annual Mr. Central Florida event from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Sun ’n Fun Florida Air Museum, 4175 Medulla Road in Lakeland. Voting officially opened both online and in person Wednesday and will continue until the night of the event, when attendees can continue voting until 8 p.m.

Each dollar a contestant raises equals one vote, but contestants can earn 1,000 votes if they secure an auction item valued at $1,000 or a sponsor who donates $1,000, Burdett said. The man with the most votes will earn the title of Mr. Central Florida 2015.

Thirteen men from across Polk County are going head-to-head, all of whom were chosen to reflect this year’s theme: Celebrating Central Florida’s Everyday Heroes. The theme was chosen to honor those who served on Sept. 11, 2001.

“During this time of year, we’re thinking about people who give all to keep us safe and healthy,” Burdett said.

The variety of men competing includes doctors, first responders, military personnel and those who are dedicated to service.

“This event ensures the Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center is able to provide care for all patients,” she said.

There are 99,000 people in Polk County with a documented hearing loss, Burdett said, and each hour of therapy costs the center $63. Because untreated hearing loss is directly linked to dementia, high blood pressure and diabetes, speech and hearing is critical to overall health, said Burdett.

In 2013, the Mr. Central Florida contestants raised $50,000, and in 2014, they raised $60,000. This year, Burdett said, the center’s goal is to raise $75,000.

So far, Burdett said, the contestants are “taking it to heart.”

Chris Walker, 29, a firefighter paramedic chosen to represent the Lakeland Fire Department, said he began fundraising before voting ever opened.

Walker, who was born and raised in Lakeland, said he understands how important this cause is. One of Walker’s good friends has a child who attends the center for speech therapy.

“The entire building is based off of donations,” Walker said. “(The children) would have nothing if it wasn’t for donations.”

Another contestant, Sgt. James Ring with the Lakeland Police Department, started a campaign called “Thank You Hero.” For each photo community members take with a first responder and tag the photo with #thankyouhero, his corporate sponsor will donate $1.

Burdett said the contestants’ willingness to help raise money for the center is only one example of what makes them heroes.

“These men have spirit,” she said.

If you’d like to vote online or learn more about the Central Florida Center for Speech and Hearing, visit