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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real EstateFlorida.)

LAKELAND, FL-Leasing momentum in the industrial sector of this centrally located city is continuing well into this year after leading all other Florida markets in net absorption through 2007. A broad range of new distribution projects involving widely recognized names were announced during the Lakeland Economic Development Council’s annual breakfast Thursday morning.

“We are bucking the trend of what’s happening in Florida,” LEDC executive director Steve Scruggs told an audience of more than 300 gathered at Interstate Commerce Park along Interstate 4. He cited figures from Cushman & Wakefield of Florida indicating that the Lakeland industrial market posted 1.4 million sf of net absorption throughout last year, while the state as a whole totaled 406,000 sf.

Among the year’s largest industrial deals is a 700,000-sf addition to the Rooms To Go furniture distribution center on Airport Road. RTG is reportedly under contract to buy 44 acres next to its current 1.7-million-sf warehouse.

Another huge expansion is represented by the facility where LEDC hosted this year’s meeting. Pepsi Bottling Group is leasing 109,200 sf at Interstate Commerce Park, using the space as a regional refurbishing center for the soft drink giant’s refrigerated vending machines and store displays.

“This is the benchmark for PBG,” Jeff Polverine, director of marketing equipment, told the audience inside his company’s warehouse. “We are breaking new ground with this facility.”

Joining Pepsi at the newly expanded business park is Outback Essentials, a manufacturer of laminated panels for hot tubs that relocated from Canada last year and occupies 31,000 sf. The park’s owner, BecKryger Capital Partners, stopped short of announcing a forthcoming tenant that will lease 98,000 sf there, though sources tell GlobeSt.com it will be Gtech Corp., a maker of scratch-off lottery tickets.

Other announcements during the LEDC breakfast include a 33,000-sf lease near I-4 by home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma Inc., which will operate a distribution center for its Florida stores. Also, Firmenich, a Swiss producer of flavor and fragrance chemicals, is launching a 12,000-sf expansion of its existing plant near Lakeland Linder Regional Airport to be finished next fall.

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