Two Local Governments Make an Economic Difference

Guest Correspondence

COVID-19 has wiped out many small businesses. Many local businesses went into debt to pay their employees as long as they could, knowing there would be no unemployment system to help them. Some business owners had completely drained their life savings and more.

The suffering has been immeasurable and the emotional toll exhausting. CPAs are spending a lot of time counseling their local small business clients financially and emotionally, as many are paralyzed and distraught not just over their personal situations, but that of their employees.

Due to state government restrictions on opening, many businesses are going further into debt in the hopes of getting some of their employees fed. They would like to take all of their employees back, but they are not sure how long they will last on what little liquidity they have. That’s when our local business associations come in to help.

The Coalition of Business Associations (COBA) is comprised of The Argus Foundation, The Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Manatee Sarasota Building Industry Association, the North Port Area Chamber of Commerce, Realtor Association of Sarasota Manatee, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Suncoast Chapter – Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Venice Area Chamber of Commerce and Visit Sarasota County. COBA organizations represent over 7,000 local businesses/employers in the Sarasota region.

On May 1, the Commissions and Managers of many local governments in Sarasota County, received a letter from COBA with specific requests and actions of each government body to help get businesses running and employing more people. These specific suggestions were to help get our economy moving again in the “new normal,” as many local regulations hamstrung businesses from operating outdoors or making repairs or safety improvements when there is no cash flow for permits.

The speed of the implementation of these requests would be key and would make a difference in terms of how many employees can get re-employed and how long a business would be able to hang on.

The Sarasota County Commission discussed the items two business days after the letter was received and acted immediately on as many items as they possibly could on the third day.  

They clearly understood the urgency. The message they sent was one of wanting to help businesses get going again and therefore get people employed again. 

The City of North Port special set the letter on their special meeting which was seven days after receiving the letter. They waived fees on temporary use permits to allow restaurants to use outdoor areas. Three business days after that, they gave the City Manager direction by unanimous consent to reduce building permit fees by 25% to help everyone.

These governments realized that keeping these businesses would help all taxpayers and get those who could not access unemployment, working again. They understood that every day that passed without action, could make the difference in whether a business closed for good. These two governments were responsive, helpful and kept their priorities in order. 

They made tough and rapid decisions and their communities are better for it. These two governments communicated back instantly to the business community. Not all local governments were responsive; some were indifferent to the economic pain of not being able to feed your family.

As a community, we need to know what governments and elected officials were responsive, and we need to thank them. Thank you Sarasota County and North Port. You have eased some of the pain for your communities.

Christine Robinson is executive director for The Argus Foundation.

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