Getting Back to Business

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FMB Chamber & FGCU Study

The Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce is encouraging its members to participate in the Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) “Coronavirus Business Impact Study,” said FMB Chamber Executive Director Jacki Liszak. “Originally, we were going to do our own study of the impact of the coronavirus on island businesses, but when we learned that FGCU was going to do a major regional analysis, there was no point in duplicating what they could probably do better, so we suggested to our membership to work through them. FGCU conducts its survey the final week of each month and releases its results about two weeks later, using raw data factors like gross revenue, number of employees, business locations, and other Southwest Florida metrics. It is quite comprehensive, with 484 people responding so far. The Chamber sent the link to all our members, to get as many people to participate as possible.”

The April FGCU results indicate that 93% of all area businesses sustained a fall in sales, with 66% reporting declines in excess of 50%. The biggest hit is to businesses with less than 25 employees, with 70% experiencing a decrease in demand for their products or services by 50% or more. Only one percent of Southwest Florida companies experienced an increase in sales and revenue. To participate in future studies, call the FMB Chamber at 239-454-7500 for the link or contact Dr. Chris Westley, the Dean of the FGCU Lutgert College of Business, at cwestley@fgcu.edu; to view the study to date, see bit.ly/isp191

A Good Weekend

Last weekend was the first that most of Fort Myers Beach as well as Florida businesses could reopen under Phase One of the plan from Governor Ron DeSantis. “Word is that businesswise it was a good weekend,” Jacki related. “Hotels reported decent occupancy and restaurants had a fine first weekend with their limited indoor seating, but it was not large enough to begin to pull people out of the weeds by any means. That said, business owners are grateful for all the support they received from throughout the island community and Southwest Florida, as I personally know a number of people who came over the bridges to help the Town. Our customers were a combination of locals and travelers, though the bulk was locals, including from Cape Coral, Fort Myers and throughout Lee County.”

This is however still just one small step, cautioned Jacki. “Our island unemployment remains high, perhaps at nearly 50%, if I had to guess. It is tricky to say that because at this time of year, with our busy season over, unemployment would go up anyhow going into the summer, but you simply cannot compare this year to any other! Restaurants are still at 50 percent indoor seating, hotels are limiting their occupancy, and short term vacation rentals and bars cannot open yet, so people like housekeepers and bartenders still cannot work.”

Jacki Liszak-President of Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce
Jacki Liszak, President of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce is optimistic about the recovery of beach businesses.

When asked if she views COVID-19 as an “anti-small business virus” or “anti-Florida business virus” due to our reliance on the tourism industry and its necessity of person-to-person contact, Jacki responded with “WOW! That is a difficult question! I don’t think that the virus particularly zeroes in on tourism and its businesses in particular, but its effect on businesses and the economy of tourism is devastating, as it has been a disaster for us on Fort Myers Beach! The response taken by our state and local leaders was necessary but most assuredly a detriment to our tourism businesses. They had to do what they had to do, to get their arms around this thing, and two months down the road, I can’t say they were wrong, because it was inconceivable to all of us three months ago that something like this could possibly happen.”

Fireworks

At their May 18 meeting, the FMB Town Council approved fireworks, but has yet to commit to hosting them on The Fourth of July. “Their hesitance is understandable,” Jacki related, “and their caution is appreciated because we don’t know what will come in the future. We all would like to see fireworks on the Fourth and I hope it will happen, as nobody loves fireworks more than me, but if it is not safe, then we need to think about other options. Council still as a little time to explore how they can creatively and safely host the fireworks on the Fourth, as Council member Bill Veach floated the idea of shooting them off from a barge at mid-island, to make the event work in a safe and responsible manner, but if Council concludes it really is not safe, they should not do it, as the safety of our residents is the ultimate bottom line.”

Jacki noted, “One of the Council members said you don’t make decisions to control the ‘knuckleheads,’ but you don’t need regulations for people who already follow the rules. Our Council is on the right path by weighing all their options while being cautious, and if that means closing Times Square during fireworks, that is something they need to consider as one of their options, as at times like this, anything is on the table.”

New Ways of Business

The FMB Chamber continues to host as many of its monthly events as possible during the coronavirus pandemic, though several are virtual. “We are doing ‘Coffee Connections,’ ‘Business After Hours,’ ‘Business Referral Group,’ and our Chamber Board Meeting virtually,” reported Jacki, “and will continue to do them that way at least through June. We are, however, reopening the Chamber Office on Monday, June 1. We are examining our option to host the ‘Bowling Bash’ in July but sadly do not anticipate the resumption of our monthly Chamber Lunch Programs until restaurants can return to close to full capacity, as we average an attendance of 60 people and you can’t put that many into a restaurant that has a limit of 40 seats right now.”

How does Jacki view FMB business for the balance of 2020? “I am always an optimist by nature! There will be a lot of good that will come out of all this in the end. We will all be different, and different is not necessarily a bad thing! People genuinely have a greater appreciation for their lives and this trickles down to their businesses and how they feel about their coworkers and customers. They are looking for new ways to improve how they run their companies and their lives, and I don’t care what business they are in; we are all discovering new things and new ways to do more with less and that will make us all better. Those are the same questions we ask ourselves here at the Chamber Office and I hear the same things from businesses all over the island. Everybody is trying new things to keep their businesses going while keeping their guests and employees safer, and that is what make Fort Myers Beach a great community! People are excited to be getting back to business, and you can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices!”

 

Caption:

  1. Jacki Liszak, President of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce is optimistic about the recovery of beach businesses.

 

  1. Florida restaurants may now open at 50% indoor capacity and outdoor seating with six feet of separation.