Designated on November 17, 2014 by Governor Rick Scott of Florida as the Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO), the federally mandated transportation policy-making organization includes the six counties of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee and the urbanized area of Highlands County including the cities of Sebring and Avon Park.
The Florida Heartland counties of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee form the South Central Economic Region of Florida. These historically rural counties have collectively experienced double-digit growth in the past two decades: a 45% increase from 1990 to 2010. As a result of this growth, the Sebring-Avon Park area of Highlands County was designated as an urbanized area based on the 2010 US Census. This designation triggered the formation of the transportation planning organization.
The linkage of these counties is economic, environmental, cultural and collaborative. Through a history in agriculture and mining, with ranching and small business centered on the abundant natural resources including lakes and health care as a major employer, the Heartland counties have worked together in changing times. As the region looks to the future through its Heartland 2060 partnerships it prepares for increasing urbanization and infrastructure investment, it is key that a multimodal transportation system to serve citizens and move goods is built.
The first meeting of the HRTPO took place on April 29, 2015. June Fisher, Highlands County Administrator, called the meeting to order in Sebring. Highlands County Commissioner James Brooks led the invocation. Highlands County Commissioner R. Greg Harris led the Pledge of Allegiance. Roll was called and the following HRTPO members were present:
- DeSoto County Commissioner Elton Langford
- Glades County Commissioner Paul Beck
- Hardee County Commissioner Colon Lambert
- Hendry County Commissioner Darrell Harris
- Highlands County Commissioner James Brooks
- Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell
- Highlands County Commissioner Ron Handley
- Highlands County Commissioner R. Greg Harris
- Highlands County Commissioner Jack L. Richie
- Okeechobee County Commissioner Frank Irby
- Avon Park City Councilmember Parke Southerland
Commissioner James Brooks of Highlands County was elected Chair and Commissioner Frank Irby of Okeechobee County was elected Vice-Chair.