The Town of Fort Myers Beach and Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted an online meeting titled “Coronavirus Small Business Relief “ held via Zoom on Friday April 17. Over 230 joined the meeting to hear Lee County Commissioner Ray Sandelli and Lee County Economic Development Director John Talmage speak. Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy was an invited speaker, but was unable to attend, so Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros attended in his place.
As the meeting was not a legally-noticed public meeting, Council members attending other than invitee Hosafros were advised not to speak to avoid any violation of the Florida Sunshine law. Jacki Liszak, President of Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, served as moderator of the meeting.
Lee County Resources
Ray Sandelli spoke first to the virtually assembled group. He said that the data indicates the apex of pandemic is approaching our area at this time. He indicated that the focus of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) is on whether current restrictions are working to control the spread of COVID-19, noting that ongoing study and data collection is in place to evaluate all current emergency declarations. Sandelli said the county is working toward the communication goal of one voice sharing Lee County information and the intent is to make ongoing adjustments based on the needs of county residents.
“Our goal is a return to normalcy, when it’s safe to do so,” said Sandelli. “We don’t want to reopen too soon and trigger a resurgence of the virus.“
Lee County has collected a number of business assistance sources and they are all listed on the county’s COVID-19 page at leegov.com/covid-19 He encouraged business owners to start on that page, selecting “Business Resources.” He urged business owners to learn what programs they qualify for and how to apply for assistance.
In closing, Sandelli noted that he believed that Brian Hamman, Chair of the BoCC would be named to Governor DeSantis’ State Task Force on reopening the state, as a representative of Southwest Florida.
John Talmage, Director of Lee County Economic Development spoke next, calling in from the Lee County Emergency Operations Call Center. He explained that Lee County was offering a one stop information source for county businesses, that could be reached either by phone at 239-533-2273 or online at Leegov.com
Lee County is also encouraging local businesses to participate in the COVID-19 supply chain, for items such as hand sanitizer, masks and gowns, by encouraging collaboration of local businesses to focus on how they could supply these items and assist the community.
Talmage said the response from local businesses to produce, manufacture and share existing resources has been very encouraging. He reminded businesses that assistance is available in obtaining materials and equipment for these supply chain improvement efforts.
The Lee County Economic Development office is also researching information to help businesses know what to look for in determining when recovery/reopening will start.
Talmage reported that SBA Disaster Loans, Payroll Protection Program & State Bridge Loan funding is currently either fully allocated or nearly so. However, he encouraged businesses to continue to apply, as additional funding is expected for these programs. Getting applications competed and submitted are critical in getting your business priority in funding in these programs.
Florida’s Re-employment program continues to deal with significant challenges, Talmage said. Governor Ron DeSantis has made leadership changes to improve the efficiency and productivity of the CareerSource Florida department, which manages re-employment program. Talmage said that there have been 800,000 claims filed so far, with just 33,000 processed, along with 26,000 Federal enhanced coverage claims processed. Federal temporary unemployment benefits will be paid via paper checks to applicants. State benefits will be paid via normal debit card or direct deposit. Federal benefit qualifications have more liberal qualifications than state benefits. Talmage encouraged applicants to use the paper application that is available online because the paper application contains information for the federal benefit. The online application does not have this info. An additional 2.000 unemployment processors have been hired, with a goal of processing 100,000 claims per week. Paper application are also available on the FMB Chamber website under the COVID-19 tab, and in the box on the front porch at Chamber office or at leegov.com (business resources tab) or at the state Department of Economic Opportunity website floridajobsresources.com
Jacki Liszak, FMB Chamber President, wrapped up the meeting and focused on local support and resource information. “The Fort Myers Beach Chamber has another extensive collection of business resources,” she said. “This info is available at fortmyersbeach.org. You do not need to be a Chamber member to utilize our resources.” She explained that the Chamber’s focus on COVID-19 assistance is community-wide and invited any and all business-owners to visit the website and pay special attention to the tabs marked “COVID-19 Information” and “COVID-19 Resources for Businesses” Contact information including email addresses and phone numbers are included. Liszak said she is taking phone calls every day.
The #WeAreFMB Publix Gift Card program continues to provide support for hospitality workers in our area. Program details and information on registration for assistance or donation by purchase of shirts is available at the Fort Myers Beach Community Foundation website, fortmyersbeachcf.com. 100% of the profits received from the sale of these shirts will be redirected to Publix Gift Cards for qualifying hospitality workers.
Before the meeting ended town staff reminded those attending that a regular FMB Town Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 20 at 9am, via Zoom. Details on participation are include on the agenda posted on the Town’s website, fmbgov.com.