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Business webinar keys in on COVID-19 impact

By Staff | Apr 29, 2020

When the state and Lee County begin to “reopen,” making customers safe is going to be a key component in the return to normalcy, business leaders say.

With discussions underway for a phased-in reopening of public places, dozens of area business leaders listened in on a webinar as local leaders spoke with them in a North Fort Myers-centric event.

Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman opened the webinar that discussed the various local, state and federal programs available to businesses and how to apply for them, as well as available call centers and the local supply chain.

Hamman led off by speaking about how companies can open their businesses safely, saying that those who don’t make their customers feel safe will not get their business.

“Customers will make buying decisions based on if they feel comfortable interacting with you,” Hamman said. “Going forward, businesses who put a program in place to keep their customers safe are going to be the businesses that thrive and ahead of the curve.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he is in no hurry to lift the social distancing restrictions implemented to curb the COVID-19 pandemic despite urgings by some to more quickly reopen the state.

Lee County Economic Development Director John Talmage and North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce president John Gardner also spoke at the 35-minute web session, mostly about how small businesses can tap into the billions of dollars in loans and programs designed to get them back on their feet.

Talmage said they have established a call center at the Emergency Operations Center, 533-2273, which gives information on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and bridge loans. The Lee County EDO also has set up a website that helps all the regional Chambers.

“Those two resources have helped reach thousands of businesses throughout Lee County,” said Talmage, as he explained the process regarding the loans.

There were 38,000 bridge loan applications in the state in a little over a month.

The federal programs such as the PPP and the SBA Disaster Loans Program were out of money before the feds approved more money for them this past weekend.

The PPP loan has been popular because it is forgivable provided companies keep their employees on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used to pay operational costs such rent, mortgage, utilities and the like.

Talmage said that unemployment was overwhelmed after the virus hit, with 1.2 million individuals filing, including 80,000 via paper applications. The state has reassigned 2,000 employees to handle the calls and break the backlog.

Talmade was waiting to see what the re-opening task force recommendations are and what the governor wants to do before the county can decide what to do.

“We’re glad the governor said we should not make a distinction between essential and non-essential because every paycheck is essential,” Talmage said. “How we align with the state will allow us to be more robust this way.”