Economic Development Director Reports Sunny Outlook for County, Islands This Year

provided to The Santiva Chronicle

John Talmadge

Indicators such as building permitting, airport ratings, real estate prices and inventory, and new construction demonstrate the return to a robust economy in Lee County, John Talmage, director of the Lee County Economic Development Office, told members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce at its Feb. 10 Economic Development Power Hour virtual meeting.

“From an economic development perspective, we’ve never been more busy,” he said. “We hope as a county that our property tax base is stabilized, that we’re not going to have to see any serious budget cuts.”

For coastal communities such as Sanibel and Captiva islands, staycations and the “snow chicks” trend, where families temporarily relocate here while their children learn remotely, are the silver lining. As a result of Lee Cares, the county was able to put about $2 million into Sanibel, he said, including to non-profits such as CROW, the Community House, and F.I.S.H.; and grants for more than 110 Sanibel-based businesses.

“The coastal communities are alive and well,” he said. “The chamber has been the absolute leader on this, but water quality has to continue to be goal one,” said Talmage. “[Water quality] is essential for both our hospitality economy, also our business recruitment economy.”

Talmage favors “holding the line” on housing development between the causeway and San Carlos Boulevard. “Our goal is to try to grow the economy responsibly but aggressively and at the same time protect our very special communities like Sanibel and Captiva and others. So, we hope they benefit from the revenues that come from growth but not necessarily be victim to traffic.”

“John Talmage is no stranger to Sanibel,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer, in his introduction to this month’s speaker. “He has helped us to roll out just about every economic initiative that we’ve been able to cooperate with, and we thank him for what he’s done.”

Talmage, an expert in the field of local economic and community development for municipal governments and national research organizations, sat for several years on the Sanibel City Planning Commission and on a number of island boards of directors, including, most recently, the Sanibel Community Association, F.I.S.H., CROW, and the Sanibel Sea School.

In his opening comments, Lai also announced that the chamber will again forego its traditional annual meeting this April. “Certainly, we will have our annual awards as we always do, but we will not be gathering as a large group function — to keep the business community safe.”

He also introduced Brian Ososky with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, who announced a new program to benefit local businesses and visitors. The Sun Saver Passport is a digital tool that allows restaurants, bars, retail operations, and attractions to offer visitors special deals online and via a new app. Already more than 4,600 people have signed up for the passport. Businesses can learn more at

The next virtual business meeting of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is scheduled for noon on March 10 with VCB Executive Director Tamara Pigott as guest speaker. For more details, contact Lai at 239-472-2348 or

The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With over 560 active Chamber members from both islands including businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr. Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes over 160,000 visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the Visitor Center one of thirteen official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers. The Visitor Center is open 365 days a year and provides visitors with comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, where to stay, shop and dine. The Chamber website receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.

Leave a Comment

We are interested in articulate, well-informed remarks that are relevant to the article. We welcome your advice, your criticism and your unique insights into the issues of the day. To be approved for publication, your comments should be civil and avoid name-calling. It may take up to 24 hours for your comment to appear, if it is approved.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.