Lee County Economic Development Council Director Speaks to Chamber Members

provided to Santiva Chronicle

John Talmage

Director of Lee County Economic Council John Talmage was the guest speaker at the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce August business luncheon hosted at the Captiva Island Yacht Club.

Talmage spoke about the challenges of the growth in Lee County, which has the fifth largest economic council in the state and the eighth largest in the south. Its population is expected to swell to 1 million residents in 9 years and 2 million in 15 years. “That is 250,000 new people for the county to absorb,” he said.

Some of the growth challenges facing the county and the region include infrastructure and the workforce. On average, Talmage reported island workers travel 45 miles each way daily to their jobs. “What is the quality of life when you have to spend two hours of your day traveling to work,” he said. The national average spent on vehicle maintenance is 7 percent, but in Lee County it’s 25 percent.

As an economist, Talmage said economics works in a triangle: It’s where you work, where you live, where your kids go to school and what you do on the weekends. The average age of the workforce is going down and the average wage is going up. “Those two things bode well for Sanibel,” he said.

In 2000, half of the homes on Sanibel where owner occupied. However, that number dropped to 36 percent a decade later. The average age on Sanibel was 62 to 63 in 2000 and 10 years later it was 68 to 69 with 80 percent of island residents between the ages of 58 to 85. “We need to make sure we have the services to support them,” he said.

Talmage also spoke about the importance of water quality. It is not just an environmental issue, but an economic development issue. Every business that has relocated or expanded to Lee County had a home here, which meant there was an emotional investment first.

I need to make sure our existing businesses are growing and we have the opportunity to amplify their success,” he said. “We are now the fifth most economically diverse county in the state.”

Additionally, Talmage discussed the importance of other economic assets to the county, such as education, workforce housing and healthcare. He has spent his career working in economic development for both municipal governments and research organizations, which includes working for New York City, Miami, Fort Myers and New Orleans. Locally, he has served on the boards of Sanibel Community Association, F.I.S.H. of SANCAP and Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife.

Sponsor of the luncheon was Southwest Florida SCORE, an organization that provides free mentoring, low cost and free workshops and other resources to establish and manage a successful business. To learn more, visit southwestflorida.score.org.

The next business luncheon will be Tuesday, Sept. 10 at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa with South Florida Water Management District Chair Chauncey Goss as the guest speaker. Registration is required and can be done at sanibel-captiva.org or by calling 239-472-1966.

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