FRIDAY ROUND-UP
For all the gardeners out there, thought this was a great opportunity, complimentary classes on Florida-friendly landscaping! 

The University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is offering a free online workshop to learn the nine principles that guide Florida Friendly Landscaping in Lee County. Each principle is covered in class so you can apply what you learn to your own garden. Plant selection and placement, efficient irrigation and proper mulching will be discussed. Learn how reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides will help minimize impacts to waterways. Dates to choose from for the online class are February 19 from 3:00-5:00PM (Spanish only), February 24 from 1:00-3:00PM, Saturday, March 20 from 10:00AM-noon, and April 15 from 1:00-3:00PM. You can register online. For information about the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program, call 239-533-7513 or email fyn@leegov.com
We had a successful Blood Drive with Lee Health on January 26 – the big green bus was parked downtown all day! Shout out to Charter Board Member Phil Gaylor for being the first person in line! Big shout out to some of the Chamber’s favorite people – Merry Coffman (Pure Florida), Jen Whyte & Fred Malone (Fort Myers Brewing) for donating! We had 23 people donate blood and that helps 69 local, Lee Health patients. We are working on securing our next date – at least 56 days from now so that we can donate again! 
A recent bulletin from the U.S. Small Business Administration shared the many Coronavirus-related resources available for businesses, detailed below.

The Paycheck Protection Program provides loan forgiveness for retaining employees by temporarily expanding the traditional SBA 7(a) loan program.
The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program provides economic relief to small businesses and non-profit organizations that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue.
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant provides emergency assistance for eligible venues, including live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, relevant museum operators, zoos and aquariums who meet specific criteria, motion picture theater operators, and talent representatives.
The Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program enables small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 quickly. If a small business has an urgent need for cash while waiting for decision and disbursement on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, they may qualify for an SBA Express Disaster Bridge Loan.
SBA Debt Relief - The SBA is providing a financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The SBA is authorized to pay 6 months of principal, interest, and any associated fees that borrowers owe for all 7(a), 504, and Microloans reported in regular servicing status (excluding PPP loans). 
Free SBA Business Counseling is available. You can find local assistance through a ZIP code search. Here are the results of a search by 33901.

Other COVID Funding Options - You can search by ZIP code for non-SBA funding options in your area.
From the Florida Chamber: Florida sees 8 months in a row of job recovery, unemployment rate continues to drop, and consumer sentiment is increasing - all in the January "By the Numbers" report from the Florida Chamber Foundation's Chief Economist, Dr. Jerry Parrish. Click here to view the latest report and watch the "By the Numbers" 5-minute video.
Ten Reasons Businesses Large and Small are Welcome to Florida - The Florida Chamber of Commerce is encouraging employers to make the move to Florida with its new “Open for Business” campaign. Recent trends show major employers and corporations are considering relocating employees and operations from high-cost states like New York and California to high value locations with a low-cost of living. Florida is a prime location for consideration with its competitive offerings and pro-business, pro-jobs climate. Constantly ranked one of the best states for business, Florida is committed to keeping regulatory requirements and business taxes low. That, along with a strong economy and zero personal state income tax, makes it a better state to do business.
The Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce supports legislative action that creates COVID liability protection for our members and the community. We also support continued funding for VISIT FLORIDA, the State's marketing agency. Here are some related updates:

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard SB 72, filed by Senator Jeff Brandes. The bill creates liability protections for business entities and other groups that are not grossly negligent and are substantially complying with government-issued standards and guidelines in order to keep employees and customers safe. The intent of SB 72 is to protect businesses from frivolous litigation and allow them to keep their doors open, employees paid and customers safe, all of which are important in helping the economy recover. SB 72 passed 7-4 and likely has two committee hearings remaining before heading to the Senate Floor. 

HB 7, which is identical to SB 72, will be heard in the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee on Wednesday, February 3rd, which marks its second of three committee hearings. HB 7 was filed by Representative Lawrence McClure, who joined the Florida Chamber's Board of Governors call on Monday to share an update on the bill’s progress and how you can help advocate for it.  
 
If you have not already asked your legislators to support COVID-19 liability protections, please do so by visiting going to the Florida Chamber's action center on COVID liability protections. 

At this time, both bills exclude healthcare providers and facilities. The Florida Chamber will continue to advocate on behalf of the healthcare community to receive the same standards as businesses that are following safety guidelines.  
On January 28th Governor Ron DeSantis released his Florida Leads budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2021-2022, which includes $50 million for VISIT FLORIDA to continue showcasing that Florida is open and safe for tourists from throughout the U.S. and the world.  
 
We received this update yesterday from Dana Young at VISIT FLORIDA:

"This marks a huge win for our industry and our state as we remain wholly focused on leading Florida’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This past year was the most challenging that Florida tourism has ever faced, but with our Governor’s support and our state’s continued investment in VISIT FLORIDA, we can keep working on behalf of every Florida family, business, and community that’s been impacted by the pandemic. 
 
In addition, we’re also excited to share with you that with the support of the Governor's Office, we are running legislation this Session that would remove our Sunset date and clarify our ability to carry forward our funds when necessary due to unforeseen circumstances (i.e. pausing our media due to storms or public health emergencies). 
 
Serving as our Senate sponsor again this year is Senator Ed Hooper (R - Palm Harbor), who helped us achieve unanimous passage of last year's bill in the Senate. This year's bill number is SB 778. Our House bill will soon be filed by Representative Rene Plasencia (R - Titusville), better known as 'Coach P' to his constituents."
I wish you all a great weekend – stay safe and wear a mask (or two).  

-Colleen