EMERGE Lakeland is a meaningful networking organization of dedicated, talented young professionals ranging in age from 21-42 in Lakeland. This organization is a partnership of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Central Florida. Groundwork for such an organization began in 2003. The partnership offers a unique opportunity for collaboration between the two organizations for the continued strengthening of the community.

EMERGE Lakeland Mission

To create a venue for our members to build relationships, develop professionally, become politically aware, philanthropically active, and contribute to the economic development and quality of life in Lakeland.

EMERGE Lakeland History

The Lakeland Chamber of Commerce is in communication with other Chambers around the state and nation. In the Fall of 2003, during the course of communication with some of these chambers, we learned that some had started Young Professional organizations. The incentive for creating such an organization was to provide a venue for retaining young professionals in the community. We also wanted the organization to be a tool for local businesses to use in recruiting young professionals to Lakeland. Too often, it was observed, young people go off to college, never to return to their home town. The Lakeland Chamber knew that we had a rich reservoir of young professionals with roots in Lakeland. If they had left Lakeland, we wanted them back and if they were still in town, we wanted to keep them here.

Unbeknownst to the Chamber in the Fall of 2003, the United Way of Central Florida had had a similar experience. Nationally, United Way organizations were recruiting young professionals to cultivate them for philanthropic endeavors. It was their goal to expose young professionals to United Way agencies and create in them an interest for the organizations funded through the United Way. It was a further goal that the young professionals would become active as volunteers with these agencies and the United Way. Not only would they contribute their time and talent, but also they would become financial contributors.

It was in December, 2003, that the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce discovered that they were targeting the same demographic group and realized that a collaboration might be possible. Representatives from both groups met together and determined that the goals of each should be combined into one program. At that time it was determined that the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce would administrate the program.

2004 was a very busy year. In the space of 9 months the following occurred:

  • A steering committee was formed
  • Co-chairs – one representative from the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce were appointed
  • A database was created of potential young professional members
  • A logo was created along with a new name: EMERGE Lakeland
  • A mission statement was developed


The following individuals are on the EMERGE Lakeland Steering Committee for the 2020 calendar year.

Steve Cole
Lanier Upshaw


Sarah Betzer
Vice Chair
Bank of Central Florida


Brandon Silk
Immediate Past Chair
Two Men and a Truck

Chris McGarvey
WallTitus, LLC

Megan Ruscello

Saddle Creek Logistics Services


Kim Knaisch

Membership Committee Chair
Bank of Central Florida


Taher Hamid

Marketing Committee Chair
Alltek Services

Mara Farson

Events Committee Chair

Rita Staffing

Abby Campos
Volunteer Committee Chair


Kurtis Pelto

Pro Development Committee Chair

Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc.

Kyle Jensen
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster, & Munson, P.A.

Kevin Albaum
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster, & Munson, P.A.

Danielle Harris
Bank of Central Florida


Andrew Ross

Florida Tropics Soccer


Sterling Searcy
CPS Investments


Jess Garcia
United Way of Central Florida

Sarah Breed
Lakeland Chamber of Commerce
(863) 688-8551, EXT. 230


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