Experts answer pandemic financial questions at chamber meeting
On April 16, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce hosted its second in a series of virtual meetings related to island businesses and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The expert panel included Sanibel-Captiva Community Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Albert, Bank of the Islands President Robbie Roepstorff, Lee County Economic Development Office Director John Talmage and Lee County Business Development Specialist Warren Baucom. They fielded questions posed by over 80 participants via Zoom during the “Financial & Economic Q&A.”
“Our mission right now is to get useful and accurate information pushed out to our members,” chamber President John Lai said as he welcomed experts and members. “We will continue to do these virtual meetings. While we can’t be physically together, we can be together online.”
For Lee government, the top concern is the process of reopening the county, said Baucom. “The county is focused on local businesses and the local economy. Moving into the tourism is secondary, to get us strengthened and ready for when we’re able to accept our visitors again.”
He reinforced the importance of Lee County’s Resources for Businesses page at leegov.com/covid-19/business for accessing daily updated information and forms for all the various tools available through the Small Business Development Centers, state of Florida, and federal government.
The site shifts the county’s business approach to meet today’s needs, he added. Staff works with companies to redo their business model to provide resources to the community and while staying in business, a way that is both effective and timely.
“I’m impressed by our business community,” Baucom said. “It has shown such concern for employees and customers, rather than just worrying about bottom-line numbers.”
During the meeting, Albert announced he just received news that the Payroll Protection Program had met its limits and closed. Both he and Roepstorff urged members to continuing applying for the program, because they believe the government will ante more into the coffers. Their banks are eligible lenders for the various emergency programs, and their staffs have been working around the clock to assist their customers at this time, they said.
“I am encouraging everyone to apply for everything,” Talmage said. He reported that with improved leadership and an increase in workers taking calls, he expects the unemployment application system to improve. He urged those who plan to file for unemployment to work with CareerSource Southwest Florida to get their PIN number reset and begin the process as soon as possible.
Members submitted questions to the bankers on the specifics of what businesses and expenses PPP covers and the strategies of applying for that aid as opposed to putting employees on unemployment.
“Right now this is the reality of what we’re living in,” Lai said. “We figured we were prepared for disasters, but pandemic was not on that list of disasters. I don’t have the answers, and I sympathize with those who have to make the decisions. Hearing from our expert panel answered a lot of questions about what we’re dealing with and how we’ll get through it. Many thanks to them.”