Last week on Wednesday, November 15th, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel of local business and government leaders, to discuss “After Irma: The Outlook for Small Business in Collier County.” Panelists included Michael Wynn, President of Sunshine ACE Hardware; Blake Gable, CEO of Barron Collier Companies; Jody Hudgins, Senior Vice President at First Florida Integrity Bank; Leo Ochs, Collier County Manager; and Marshall Goodman, President and CEO of Naples Accelerator.
After an introduction by Bill Barker, President of the Naples Daily News, the panelists discussed the status of business in Collier County following Hurricane Irma which focused on three themes:
- County’s storm response: All panelists expressed gratitude to Mr. Ochs for the great work of the County staff and the County’ exemplary storm preparation and response.
- Environment for small business: Both before and after the storm, Collier County has been investing in citizen-accessible “economic incubators” and other methods to accelerate the success of small business.
- Optimistic outlook: After the biggest storm to hit the Naples area in over 50 years, the small business community is poised to continue the pre-storm momentum and economic recovery.
Lessons from the Panelists
Michael Wynn. Odds are stacked against small businesses and challenges are constantly evolving. Despite the hurricane and despite the “Amazon effect” and trend toward consolidation, Mr. Wynn made it clear that retail is not dead. He stressed the importance of social media during a major storm and for general knowledge of a customer base. Small businesses may not be able to compete with Amazon’s product selection, but they can deliver products and use data to hone in on their customer base and product preferences.
Blake Gable. Mr. Gable explained that Hurricane Irma hit small retail businesses particularly hard and recovery will be an ongoing challenge. One month of lost business can devastate a “Mom and Pop” business. Both commercial and residential real estate markets are making a steady comeback. While Irma hit all sectors in September, signs point to a recovery to healthy pre-storm levels for both commercial and residential real estate.
Jody Hudgins. Mr. Hudgins stressed the importance of having a good relationship with your banker. He also urged that, in times of trouble, standby letters of credit are very important to have (particularly for unexpected surges in overtime expenses and supplies). Mr. Hudgins also indicated that disaster recovery loans have been an important part of the post-storm lending environment.
Leo Ochs. Mr. Ochs received accolades from fellow panelists on the County’s storm preparation and response. He indicated that the County is undergoing an “after action review” of the storm. Mr. Ochs also mentioned that the Board of County Commissioners may be considering policies such as a requirement for actual generators at gas stations and the need for backup generators at County utility stations.
Marshall Goodman. Mr. Goodman has a background in Silicon Valley and uses his background to help small businesses get up and running. He shared stories about the unique businesses that have come through his accelator program and the combination of retirees and opportunities that make Collier County unique.
The Future Looks Bright
Many small businesses are still reeling from the unexpected costs and lost revenue associated with the storm. Despite being directly hit by the most powerful hurricane to hit the area in over fifty years, Collier County is quickly recovering from the storm. The general mood among the panel was optimistic. Lessons learned from Irma will hopefully make the small business community even stronger than before the storm.
Photo Courtesy of Gail Lamarche