Polk County Day History
2003: Discover the Jewels and Treasures of Polk County
2004: Celebrate Polk
2005: The Pieces of Polk – People, Places and Partnerships
2006: Cancelled due to unexpected Legislature Recess
2007: Passport to Polk
2009 & 2010: Polk County is...
2011: Polk Proud 150
Since its inception in 2003, Polk County Legislative Day in Tallahassee has continued to grow in popularity, attendance and stature.
In 2003, Discover the Jewels and Treasures of Polk County was a beautifully orchestrated event that featured catering by the Texas Cattle Company and entertainment by local student musicians from Harrison School of the Arts. The very casual (laid back) welcome event was held at the TECO house a few miles from the Capitol. The next morning, legislators were served Florida's Natural orange juice and Publix donuts as they entered the Capitol from the parking garages – reminding them it was Polk County Day at the Capitol. In the courtyard that cold and blustery day (can you say wind chill factor of 21 degrees?) Never Fade Bluegrass band and Darrell Gunn provided entertainment while guests enjoyed a hot dog lunch.
The main event (reception) was held on the 22nd floor of the Capitol where panoramic views of the City of Tallahassee, Florida State University, the Supreme Court and Florida A & M University are spectacular! We definitely elevated the stereotypical perception of Polk County when guests got off the elevators and were greeted by the sounds of a full string orchestra in a magical setting – complete with great food, gracious hosts and celebrity attendees! This inaugural event set the stage (and the bar) for those to come.
The 2004 (award-winning) event, Celebrate Polk, saw a number of additions to the overall experience. We moved to a multi-event format, and we also moved the TECO welcome reception to the prestigious Governor's club. Additionally, we offered an unsponsored dining opportunity (immediately following TECO's reception) at Marie Livingston's Steakhouse. The next day, we also upgraded the breakfast for arriving legislators (bagged breakfast sandwich, fruit and juice – prepared by local Polk Caterer Chef Teri Lobb) and added a catered luncheon in the Capitol courtyard. The main event was, once again, on the 22nd floor of the Capitol, and once again, guests enjoyed Texas Cattle Company cuisine and talented Polk County youth entertainers. Rochelle School of the Arts joined us that year. We saw legislative and hometown attendance increase as the event began to take on a life of its own.
In 2005 (another award-winner!) we focused on the Pieces of Polk – People, Places and Partnerships. It seemed that Polk County Legislative Day was now "all grown up" and very well established. Fundraising results far exceeded previous years as more and more Polk businesses wanted to get involved. Word of mouth was a great generator of this generous response as folks came back and told others how fabulous it was!
We stuck with the incomparable Governor's Club for the TECO welcome reception and moved the optional (unsponsored) dinner to a larger facility – a private dining room at the famed "Silver Slipper" restaurant – a place where walls are lined with photos of current and former stars in the political arena including elected officials from legislators to governors to presidents along with key lobbyists and entertainment stars (celebrities). The Slipper is a true Tallahassee landmark. Then gubernatorial hopeful, Charlie Crist, joined us for some fun and fellowship. In fact, we saw at least three of the governor's cabinet join in the festivities in 2005. Again the next day…
We enjoyed a catered lunch in the courtyard with incredible entertainment by the Davenport School of the Arts Panamaniacs (steel drum band)! The evening event topped all others with bright splashy colors and a focus on the fabric of the community – People, Places and Partnerships! Legislative attendance soared to new heights. And just when we were feeling pretty good about ourselves and our events……along came
And, with it, the demise of receptions as we knew them in Tallahassee. No longer could state level elected officials or their staff accept food, beverage or gifts from any lobbyist or any organization that had a lobbyist. That meant most of our sponsors and Polk county government itself! So, what to do? We had a couple of options:
A. Hold the reception and ask legislators to pay for their food/beverage
B. Come up with an alternate idea that would be free and open to all
We chose option B because each night in Tallahassee, legislators have many reception opportunities, and if they had to pay $20-$50 for each one they attended, it would get very costly. We knew we would have to COMPETE with other even more-established events and we believed our legislative turn-out would suffer….so back to the drawing board.
That's when the idea for "Passport to Polk" was born. Initially intended to be held in 2006, when the legislature unexpectedly took a full week recess the week our event was scheduled, we put it on hold and dusted it off for this year's festivities!
2007 Passport to Polk (yet another award winner!) The Polk Communications staff worked with a local advertising agency and a special events company to move an idea from dream to reality.
The dream: a to-scale, topographical, interactive map of Polk County that fit in the Capitol courtyard between the Historical Capitol and the new Capitol. "Tourists" traversed the map with their tour guides stopping at, and learning about, Polk attractions, lakes, municipalities and historic sites along the way. They had their passports stamped by the Cypress Gardens belles under the Ferris Wheel, listened to the carillons in Bok Tower; posed on the lawn of Polk’s historic 1908 courthouse, learned about aquatic weeds (hydrilla, hyacinths and water lettuce) and natural resource conservation; raced remote control cars in a traffic jam designed to represent Polk’s infrastructure gap – a gap created because the population is growing faster than we can build roads; read giant postcards from each municipality with pictorial representation and unique facts…and that was just their travel adventure. Visitors also had an opportunity to pet a live alligator, sample local cuisine in the "Taste of Polk" tent and experience live entertainment – ranging from bluegrass to a full orchestra. With passports stamped, visitors could pose for a free photo atop an airboat with a scenic Green Swamp backdrop and an alligator at the helm, (see photos).
While all of this was happening, a core group of Polk County staff, business leaders and municipal representatives infiltrated committee meetings and Capitol offices, lobbying state legislators and their aides for (and sometimes, against) issues affecting Polk County.
The main Capitol Courtyard event was preceded by a Welcome Reception where Polk’s leaders, event sponsors and business leaders had an opportunity to network and discuss local issues with their legislators. Following the reception, we arranged for sponsors to dine with their legislators and County Commissioners at one of six local restaurants. We created personalized sponsor packets for our contributors which included a detailed events schedule, Tallahassee maps, a bus (shuttle) schedule personalized maps to their dining location choice, information about leisure and tourist activities and more. We delivered the sponsor packets to each of the hotels our sponsors called "home" for the duration of the Polk County Day events.
To ease parking concerns, Polk’s Transit Services Division served two major functions: they transported props and equipment needed for the event from Polk County to Tallahassee; and they served as Polk’s own Tallahassee shuttle service – driving a loop route and transporting staff, sponsors and visitors (and their gear) between several hotels and the event sites at and near the Capitol.
This year marked the first time sponsors, legislators, county staff, visitors and others could keep abreast of the planning, preparations, events and more via web pages created specifically for Polk County Day. The 12 web pages accumulated more than 5,000 views, obviously a fantastic way to keep our stakeholders informed!
The Polk County Communications Division directed, oversaw and approved every aspect of the event’s development and implementation. Polk County staff (including upper level management) acted as hosts and carried out assignments to ensure the event was a huge success!