Because of the region's rich soil and warm climate, citrus has been a major contributor to the local economy since the earliest days of Lake Wales. Recently, the area has been successful in attracting light manufacturing, construction and electronics firms. A regional mall opened in February 1996 which provides employment opportunities for an estimated 1,200 persons. In December 1997, the City acquired land on U.S. Hwy. 27, approximately 1.5 miles south of State Hwy. 60, for development of a the Longleaf Business Park. The stated goal of the City Commission and the city administration is to encourage and facilitate quality growth and economic development without compromising the vintage charm that is so important to the residents of the community.
Population - 13,076
Area - 19.14 square miles
Lake Wales, Florida was founded in 1911 by the Lake Wales Land Company, a group of businessmen who purchased 5,000 acres in the hilly wilderness around Lake Wailes --a pristine lake named after Sydney Wailes, a land agent employed by the State of Florida after the Civil War. The men of the Lake Wales Land Company believed that the plentiful pine forests would form the basis of a thriving turpentine and lumber industry, the sandy soil would be ideal for growing grapefruit, oranges and other citrus, and the rolling hills would be the perfect site for a town. The first settlers arrived in 1911, the town was incorporated in 1917, and the City of Lake Wales was granted its municipal charter in 1921.
Lake Wales has a commission/manager form of government. Five city commissioners are elected at-large to serve 4-year terms. Any commissioner who is not running for election is eligible to run for mayor, and, if elected, serves a 1-year term. The City Commission appoints the city manager, the city clerk and the city attorney. All other positions are appointed by the city manager. The City Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month in City Hall (201 W. Central Ave.). Commission meetings are televised on the local cable channel.
The Lake Wales community has decided to step up and take responsibility for the quality of its schools. Charter schools have been chosen as the vehicle for making that decision a reality. Lake Wales schools include four elementary schools, one middle school, one vocational technical school, and one senior high school. Vanguard School is a private education facility for children with special learning needs. In addition, two private colleges (Warner Southern College and Webber College) are located in the area, as are local extensions of the University of South Florida and Bethune-Cookman. Polk State College is located 15 miles north of Lakes Wales. A local branch campus of Polk State College, the J.D. Alexander Center, has made its home in the historically renovated Old City Hall in downtown Lake Wales. Florida Southern College (Lakeland) is a forty-five minute drive, and the main campuses of both the University of South Florida (Tampa) and the University of Central Florida (Orlando) can be reached in about 1-1/2 hours.
Lake Wales Public Library, the Depot Museum, and the Lake Wales Arts Council provide programs in the arts and local history which supplement programs offered by the public school system.
In addition to a 2.25 mile bike/hike path along the shores of Lake Wailes, there are more than 250 acres of public parks and athletic fields within the city limits which are maintained by the Parks & Recreation departments. The City offers a variety of year-round recreational programs. Additional organized leisure activities are sponsored by community groups which include the Lake Wales Little League, Little Theater, Children's Theater, YMCA, Tourist Club and Senior Center.