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Lee County EDO director speaks to chamber members

By Staff | Aug 21, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Lee County Economic Development Office Director John Talmage speaks to Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce members on the growth challenges facing the county.

Lee County Economic Development Office Director John Talmage was the guest speaker at the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce’s business luncheon at the Captiva Island Yacht Club.

Talmage spoke about the challenges of the growth in the county, which has the fifth largest economic office in the state and the eighth largest in the south. Lee County’s population is expected to swell to 1 million residents in nine 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 region include infrastructure and the workforce. Talmage reported that on average, 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 it is 25 percent.

As an economist, Talmage said economics works in a triangle: It is 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 were owner-occupied. However, that number dropped to 36 percent a decade later. The average age on Sanibel was 62-63 in 2000 and 10 years later it was 68-69, with 80 percent of island residents between the ages of 58 and 85.

“We need to make sure we have the services to support them,” Talmage said.

He 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 has a home here, which means there is an emotional investment first.

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

Additionally, he discussed the importance of other economic assets to the county, such as education, workforce housing and healthcare. Talmage has spent his career working in economic development for 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 for the Sanibel Community Association, F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife.

The sponsor of the luncheon was Southwest Florida SCORE.

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