As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to weigh on Florida’s largely leisure-based economy, Gov. Ron DeSantis is continuing to spotlight how business owners are coping with outbreaks
On Wednesday, the Governor met with theme park leaders to share a message of safety success. Thursday’s panel took him to the other side of the Interstate 4 corridor to talk reopening with local business owners at Port Tampa Bay.
“I’m glad that as we sit here today in the state of Florida, the picture with COVID-19 is much more positive than what we were dealing with at the end of June and the beginning of July in particular,” DeSantis said.
Virus infections have continued declining since peaking in mid-July. Hospital metrics and the testing positivity rate also show favorable trends.
Zach Feinstein, owner of The Black Pearl restaurant in Dunedin and other local businesses, said patronage to his restaurants have cycled with the virus outbreaks. He expected 2020 to be the best year for his businesses yet, but the pandemic’s mid-March emergency squashed his business’ busy season
“We had four locations at the beginning of the year. Now we have three,” Feinstein said.” That should tell you a little bit about how the beginning of the year went for us.”
When he closed his businesses in mid-March, he laid off all 125 employees but has since brought nearly everyone back.
DeSantis gave Feinstein and his wife, Christina Feinstein, an unexpected visit to their Dunedin location late last month, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of The Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, said member businesses are looking for way to return to work with a hybrid model in which some employees work from home while others commute. Similarly, the Chamber hopes to hold some of its events in a hybrid model.
“We believe that the number one social program ever invented was a job, and our focus is how do we make sure that jobs are out there, jobs are being provided and we can get people back to work as quickly as we can,” Rohrlack said.
July’s general revenue collection report, released Wednesday, showed an increase in collections for the first time since March, when officials first confirmed the coronavirus in Florida. Sales tax receipts from July’s report largely reflect business from June, the month COVID-19 began to surge again in Florida.
With Florida’s economic reliance on tourism, economic experts have warned that it could take months, possibly until vaccinations are widespread, for tourism drivers like the cruise industry to fully rebound. Wednesday’s panel was an effort to “convince” prospective guests that Florida’s theme parks are safe.
“We think we’ll get there,” DeSantis said of tourism. “We think that’s an important part of the state.”