Special to SWFBT
By Karen P. Moore, SWFBT Publisher
Everything related to COVID-19 happened so fast and everything after has evolved even faster. So it is difficult (if not impossible) to figure out where we are headed today, tomorrow and next year–with our businesses, cities and local economy.
I’ve been so busy trying to “keep up” with this constant evolution, I’ve had almost zero time to tune in to insightful webinars and web-based meetings being offered to Southwest Florida business owners. (Many are listed at https://swfloridabusinesstoday.com/category/covid-19-webinars/ .)
So, in order to get some facts and benchmarks regarding our local economy, I stepped off the COVID-19 information merry-go-round for a few hours and tuned in to the Chamber of Southwest Florida’s web-based panel discussion last week, “City & County Managers COVID-19 Response,” moderated by the 2020 Chamber Chair, Chris Lopez. Serving as panelists were Collier County Manager Leo Ochs; Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais and Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazemi.
Kazemi pointed out, “While we have all worked together in Southwest Florida with other counties and cities when we have gone through hurricanes and recovery together, COVID-19 is, obviously, very different.” He added, “But because we have worked through hurricanes together before, the communication connections were already in place here in Southwest Florida, thankfully, and we are all working very hard to make sure we are all on the same page, to the best of our abilities.”
Ochs noted, “As with Lee County, we concentrated on staying open to provide all essential services, by moving from front-facing customers to a virtual online delivery method. We closed down facilities as needed, which now we are beginning to open back up again, starting with the beaches and parks, per CDC and the Governor’s Executive Order guidelines, of course.”
Regarding how Southwest Florida will come back from this setback, Ochs believes that home and commercial construction will come back faster than hospitality. Desjarlais believes that hospitality and tourism will rebound quickly. He wonders, however, as hospitality and restaurant businesses begin to open again, “Will the supply chain be able to keep up? Will people feel safe?” He said, “We just have to work through it together, one step at a time.”
Here are some of the things that have been done to keep the various parts and pieces of the local economy moving. The City of Fort Myers offered a microenterprise loan program, Kazemi stated, that quickly got 7000 applicants now under review. Since the Collier County Commission was not meeting, Ochs was given authority over the procurement process to keep it on track. Desjarlais noted that Lee County’s procurement process has also been kept on track.
Desjarlais shared, “I hope people take to heart that things are going to get better, and more quickly than anticipated. All the dire predictions for the state of Florida—we never got close to those.” He added, “But for Miami-Dade-Broward counties, Florida’s COVID-19 case numbers would be very low; while it was predicted that Florida numbers would get as bad as New York and New Jersey.”
“I’m looking forward to getting our local economy back to normal as quickly and safely as possible,” Ochs concluded. We should be readying to ramp-up on construction and development rather than holding things up.”
“Go to our websites to get the right answers: we’ll give you the facts. Please don’t listen to the rumors,” Kazemi urged. He closed with, “It’s a new era, and every day we’ll learn something new; hopefully, all our businesses will come out strong.”