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Hurricane Ian — One Year Later: Making Strides

Cape Coral businesses getting back to normal

By CJ HADDAD - | Oct 2, 2023

Hurricane Ian took a toll on local businesses in Cape Coral like no other weather event in Southwest Florida history. The city is home to more than 9,000 businesses, most of them being small and family/locally owned.

Storefronts were wiped out, windows broken, roofs torn, water damage about. It was a nightmare for owners. Those that have been fortunate enough to reopen are thankful to still be standing. Some, unfortunately, have had to close for good.

“Businesses all over Cape Coral suffered impacts from Hurricane Ian from Cape Coral Parkway to Pine Island Road and beyond,” said Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral President/CEO Donna Germain. “I cannot think of one that was not affected by Ian in some way whether it be electricity, connectivity or physical damage to their property.”

Now one-year removed from the devastating storm, Cape and Southwest Florida businesses – those that survived – have made great strides to return to normalcy. 

“We saw our businesses throughout Cape Coral open back up fairly quickly, some were back up within a week and some took a little longer depending on when their electric and internet were back up,” Germain said. “Unfortunately, some made the difficult decision not to reopen.”

Germain said the Chamber started reaching out to businesses immediately following the storm to collect status reports thought their Businesses Emergency Coordination Center dashboard.

Germain said based on the response the Chamber received, they estimate that 98% of businesses already have, or will fully recover from the storm. 

The dashboard was created through a partnership between the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral and the Emergency Operations Center to have a centralized location to gather and distribute business information during an emergency activation.

As for how the aftermath of the storm felt, Germain said: “Devastating is the first word that comes to mind, but also hopeful as we watched our entire community come together to start the recovery process. We worked with our Emergency Operations Center around the clock prior to and after the storm to get information out in any way possible to not only our members, but to the entire community. We visited businesses throughout the city to assess their damage. We made phone calls, sent emails, texts, Facebook messages and used communication tool available to get in contact with our businesses to see what their needs were.”

Germain said the Chamber worked with recovery agencies like FEMA and SBA to get information to businesses regarding emergency funding. They worked with local organizations such as Kiwanis to set up a Business Recovery Center location for SBA so businesses would have a place to go and get assistance with their applications for funding and see what other resources were out there.

“We met with SBA as well as state and federal officials on their behalf to streamline the process for funding and advocate on behalf of our businesses that were struggling to get answers. That battle is still ongoing,” Germain said. “The application and loan process for getting these businesses the help they need as quickly as possible needs some serious improvements.  Better training for staff and consistency in communication with what is required to close these loans is seriously lacking. It took some businesses anywhere from six to nine months to get their loans closed. That is unacceptable.”

While many Cape businesses were lucky enough to reopen doors to the public despite hefty obstacles to do so, it’s important to not just recover, but to become resilient to the next storm, whenever that may be. 

“I believe Ian was a wakeup call for many residents and business owners,” Germain said. “Yes, we can and will get storm surge in Cape Coral. We had heard it for years and never experienced it. I am guilty myself of becoming a bit complacent where that was concerned.  A lot of businesses, ourself included, used this opportunity to harden our buildings beyond the regular scope of repairs. We opted for a metal roof versus a shingle roof and are looking into ways to flood-proof our welcome center.”

Germain added that businesses are looking into ways to get back up and running faster following a disaster, such as installing generators at their business and adopting wireless backup systems. These are examples of just some of the improvements the Chamber is seeing businesses make to ensure that they can continue operations when another major weather event takes place. 

So, what are the biggest takeaways for local businesses one year after Ian?

“I strongly encourage everyone to invest in a battery-operated storm radio,” Germain said. “That is the best way to get information following a storm.”

Germain added that prior to Hurricane Ian, the Chamber and the Emergency Operations Center were working on the Business Emergency Coordination Center to better communicate with local businesses. It is a real-time dashboard linked to the Chamber’s website that can be found by visiting capecoralchamber.com.