EDO director reports sunny outlook for county, islands this year
Indicators such as building permitting, airport ratings, real estate prices and inventory, and new construction demonstrate the return to a robust economy, Lee County Economic Development Office Director John Talmage told members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce at a virtual Economic Development Power Hour meeting on Feb. 10.
“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, staycations and the “snow chicks” trend — where families temporarily relocate to the area while their children learn remotely — are the silver lining, Talmage said. As a result of LeeCARES, the county was able to put about $2 million into Sanibel, including to non-profits such as CROW, The Community House and F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva 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. (Water quality) is essential for both our hospitality economy, also our business recruitment economy.”
Talmage favors “holding the line” on housing development between the Sanibel 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,” he said. “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,” chamber President John Lai said. “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.”
An expert in the field of local economic and community development for municipal governments and national research organizations, Talmage sat for several years on the Sanibel Planning Commission and on a number of island boards, 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 in 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 said.
Lai 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 an app. Already more than 4,600 people have signed up. Businesses can learn more at explore.fortmyers-sanibel.com.
The chamber’s next virtual business meeting is scheduled for March 10 at noon. The featured guest speaker will be Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau Executive Director Tamara Pigott.