provided to Santiva Chronicle
As an emergency informational measure relating to island businesses and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce hosted its first-ever, Zoom-platform virtual meeting on Monday, April 6, with Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, District 3 County Commissioner Ray Sandelli, and director of the Lee County Economic Development Office John Talmage.
“We’re trying to message with one voice, because people get confused pretty quickly,” said Sandelli. The three speakers explained how local government agencies huddle virtually and work together daily to standardize messages, including conferring with Gov. Ron DeSantis before making decisions.
Sandelli and Talmage directed those “attending” the meeting to Lee County’s Resources for Businesses page at leegov.com/covid-19/business to access aggregated information and forms for all the various loans, grants, financial assistance, and other tools available through the Small Business Development Center and State of Florida.
“What do we look like going forward?” Sandelli articulated one of functions of the business resource portal. “What does [the pandemic] do to our marketplace once we work through that? Is it going to be the same? I’d probably say ‘no.’”
Talmage talked more in-depth about each of the programs available to small businesses through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act’s stimulus plan. They include the Payroll Protection Program for those businesses who continue to pay employees, small business bridge loans, and the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan. He also addressed the current challenges with the Florida unemployment website, advising individuals to try accessing the site late at night or completing the hard-copy application form, printable from the county’s small business portal.
“The system will continue to crash,” Talmage said. “But you want to get the application completed as soon as you can.”
Mayor Ruane explained the city’s reasoning behind some of the 21 proclamations it had issued to date regarding novel coronavirus. “Closing the causeway is difficult to do,” he said in answer to some citizen feedback the city receives. He added that on the previous Saturday, only 784 cars crossed the causeway, compared to 10,000 cars in one day this time last year.
“We have cut off as much supply as possible,” he said. “We always thought that if the supply would go away, the demand would go away….We tried not to be an attraction and tried to have less people come to our community.”
“We hear the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘uncharted’ a lot these days,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive office. “As our speakers pointed out, it’s a process of educating the public about something we are all just learning. Their words went a long way in informing and leading our members during these uncertain times.”
In his introduction to the virtual meeting, Lai announced the chamber’s latest COVID-19 campaign, #paradisecanwait. He also thanked outgoing board chair Mary Bondurant and welcomed incoming chair Brian Kautz. The change in leadership normally would have been announced at the chamber’s April 14 annual meeting, which was canceled because of the pandemic.