Monroe County, in partnership with the Chambers of Commerce in Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, and the Lower Keys, invited business owners and community members to help identify additional actions needed to support the recovery of businesses and economic redevelopment following the impacts of Hurricane Irma. The workshop took place Monday at the Marathon Government Center with County Commissioners Heather Carruthers and Michelle Coldiron attending, as well as other County and municipality officials.
Monroe County Disaster Recovery Director Helene Wetherington discussed the business survey taken by business owners in the weeks leading up to the workshop. According to the survey, the most significant challenges for business owners included client base changes since the hurricane, lack of financial operating capital, business locations with hurricane-caused structural damaged, lack of workforce and workforce housing. Visit www.monroecounty-fl.gov/hurricaneirma to see the results of the survey.
At the workshop, attendees identified issues facing businesses, such as the financial ability for repaying loans and debts from the hurricane, streamlining planning issues and permitting, transportation improvements, workforce housing, and communications for disaster recovery.
"Participating in the activities that took place in this room today was an eye-opening experience," said Wetherington. "Almost two years after Hurricane Irma, our businesses still lack financial resources, and we need to continue to make funding for Monroe County businesses a priority."
Federal and State assistance for business owners was the main topic of discussion. The Florida Wildlife Commission’s CJ Sweetman spoke about the $44.6 million that will be available for marine fisheries assistance. Also, in attendance was the Department of Economic Opportunity Director Reginald Dixon who gave updates on the $60 million business recovery grant program, $20 million workforce training program, and the $85 million infrastructure repair and mitigation activities.
The workshop also included a panel discussion with Florida Keys Lodging Association’s Jodi Weinhofer, left, First State Bank’s Jeff Smith, Marathon Chamber Executive Director Daniel Samess, Faro Blanco’s Karen Thurman, Small Business Development Center Representative Margie Smith, and Insurance Offices of America and FIRM’s Mel Montagne. The panel discussed unmet needs, financial support options, legal and regulatory challenges, and business insurance.
In addition to the workshop held from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., representatives stayed for a 5:30 p.m. briefing for any business owners who expressed interest in the workshop but could not attend.
Pictured: Organized by Monroe County Disaster Recovery and the local Chambers, community representatives joined Monroe County Commissioners Heather Carruthers and Michelle Coldiron, who broke off into small workgroups for the second part of the workshop to brainstorm recovery projects. This workgroup is discussing Lower Keys issues.