FRIDAY ROUND-UP
Next Wednesday, March 24, is the United Way's Battle of the Burntwoods and yours truly will be “guest bartending” from 5:00 to 8:00PM at Burntwood Tavern Bell Tower. This is kind of scary as I know nothing about bartending but am bold enough to ask you to donate to my tip jar anyway! I will offer a little incentive – for every person that donates, I will put your name in a hat and on March 25, I will pull one name and offer 2 tickets to see the Florida Everblades! Feel free to stop by and see me and the rest of the team - I promise you there will be people there that can do more than pour a craft beer or make a Jameson & Ginger. Thank you in advance for your support!
The American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill was signed last week. This includes long-awaited targeted aid dedicated specifically to the restaurant industry, new provisions for small businesses across other industries, and more money for the Paycheck Protection Program. 

Last Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a Small Business Update with special insights from U.S. Chamber executive vice president and chief policy officer Neil Bradley, CO— content director Jeanette Mulvey, and National Restaurant Association executive vice president Sean Kennedy about the new bill and what it means for small businesses and restaurants. The update was recorded, it is approximately 1 hour long, if you would like to review.
Our Second Annual Cornhole Tournament is fast approaching on Friday, April 16 and we are in need of volunteers to help with board set-up, tents, registration, and breakdown. The event runs from 1:00PM-5:00PM, and we anticipate starting set-up at 10:00AM and should be done by 6:00PM. If you come to help towards the end of the event, you can stay downtown to enjoy Music Walk! The great news? We'll be right next to the Chamber building at the Florida Repertory Theatre's Outdoor Venue, which will make set-up and break-down so much easier.

We have less than 12 teams available for the Cornhole Tournament, so if you're interested in playing, please make your reservation. We also have sponsorships and spectator tickets available. Visit the event webpage for details.
My fellow Chamber early birds will be happy to know that we are starting to plan Business Before Breakfast events again. For those new to the Chamber, these are casual networking events for coffee and conversation that begin at 7:30AM.

We are currently practicing COVID protocols and are looking for hosts that can accommodate 30 people with social distancing. If your business has this kind of space and you are interested in hosting, please email Debra for more information.
LEGISLATIVE UPDATES
I get much of my information from our partners: the Florida Chamber and the Florida Restaurant Lodging Association. But, I also follow these two sites to see where bills are going next and more. I am still learning how to read through these so bear with me as I try to bring you information during Session: 



(Click on the image of "Bill" to get a refresher on how a bill becomes a law!)
VISIT FLORIDA UPDATE - From Dana Young, President & CEO, Visit Florida: “On 3/16, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he is recommending $50 million in federal stimulus funding for VISIT FLORIDA, bringing his total budget recommendation for our organization to $100 million. This is fantastic news for Florida’s tourism industry and economy as we continue our recovery efforts. The travel and tourism sector has been hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the expanded investment will further equip VISIT FLORIDA to bring back Florida’s tourism economy sooner and better than ever. “ 
TOURIST & CONVENTION DEVELOPMENT TAXES (HB1429 / SB2008) The Chamber does not support the proposed changes and has developed this position statement:  

The Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce supports preserving the current uses of Tourist Development Taxes and opposes any expansion of those uses outside of current tourism marketing activities.
EVERGLADES RESTORATION FUNDING Last week I shared information about a historic opportunity to advance Everglades Restoration funding. The Army Corps of Engineers has identified the need for $725 million annually over the next four years to keep all the currently authorized Everglades restoration projects on track – projects like the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. Obviously, this is a big ask, but it’s also an incredibly exciting and historic one because it’s getting traction. The entire Florida Congressional Delegation on the House side, sent this letter making the $725 million ask. Not only does our Chamber support this action but I am excited to share that the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers also supports this action. The Alliance includes 7 additional Chambers (Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Captiva, Cape Coral, Estero, SWFL Inc., Naples, Chamber of SWFL) and we are proud to partner with them.  
COVID LIABILITY PROTECTION – On the House side, there are two bills, HB7 (Business) and HB7005 (Healthcare) and they are moving quickly. The Senate opted to merge SB72 and SB74 so Business COVID litigation protection is now partnered with Healthcare and in Committee meetings this week.  
MAIN STREET FAIRNESS – (HB15, SB50) simply said, this is not a new tax but covers online sales tax for those doing business in Florida but located out-of-state. The change being proposed this week is that the funds raised through this tax be contributed to the unemployment fund to help offset unemployment increases the business community can expect to receive. This funding would help replenish this hard-hit account.
There are two thoughts I want to close with this week. The first goes back to Wednesday, March 17. It was one year ago when we “closed” the State, dramatically changing our world. We did not know what to expect the first few weeks and kept working at the Chamber but that didn’t last long. We made the tough decision to furlough the team except for Linda and I, closing the downtown Chamber but opening Chamber West (Linda) and Chamber South (my home) and working from there. There were so many questions and then we started getting so many answers. The information shared was staggering and we needed a new way to share this with you and the community. We called on our website partner, Matt Connar and his team at Boost Creative and they created our microsite – in 4 days. It was a crazy request, but they did it and we used that site for 8 months sharing information that our members and the community needed to know. We became the holding area for information from all of our resources and this site was updated daily. We changed the way we do business as all of you did.

The good news from this is that we also learned so much. We learned more about what was relevant to you and we shifted gears to make sure we were the organization you needed us to be. We continue working this path and will be using the microsite as an influencer of our new website in the works. So, a year later, there are many people who helped along the way, but I would be remiss in not sharing a big Thank You to Linda Onorevole, Matt Connar & the Boost Creative team, our Executive Committee and the Chamber Board. We are a stronger Chamber today because of the past year!
My second thought is a little lighter. In early 2019, my daughter Elizabeth and I had a conversation about taking a big trip – she was a sophomore in college at the time and I felt that if we were going to do a serious trip we needed to think about when that might work. We talked about the summer of 2020 as she would graduate in 2021 and may not be able to take a long trip before she “hit the real world.” But, then there was talk of potential internships, etc. needed in her sports world and the fact that we had just lost my Dad. It pushed the “life is short” mantra a bit and we decided to book our trip for the summer of 2019. When I asked her where she wanted to go, thinking she would pick Greece or Italy, she chose Ireland. I had to ask why- I mean I know that I love Ireland and would have loved to go back but wasn’t sure what drove her to choose this. It was a simple answer – “It looks so green in the pictures and I want to see that, and I want to see the sheep.”

That was all I needed, and our big adventure was planned. Two weeks in Ireland, started with an organized tour and then some time spent on our own. Elizabeth saw plenty of green and got to pet a sheep at a local farm. We toasted my Dad, a.k.a. Poppy, as we traveled and had the best time. I know now if we had kept the 2020 dates, we wouldn’t have been able to go. Elizabeth graduates in 5 weeks and we expect opportunities will take her into the world of adulthood within a few weeks after. Why am I sharing this? Maybe to nudge you – don’t delay on the things that make you happy, take the trip, buy the wine, and love on your family and friends.  
 
Stay safe this weekend, wear your mask and #shoplocal 

-Colleen