Lee County is taking action to meet the needs and challenges posed by the recent population boom, John Talmage, director of the Lee County Economic Development Office, told some 80 members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce at the Sept. 14 business luncheon held at Sundial Beach Resort. Santiva Chronicle sponsored the meeting.

“We are trying to be smarter about our growth,” he said, zeroing in on workforce issues and transportation solutions that could help alleviate shortages. The expansion of business giants such as Amazon, Wayfair, and Red Bull to Lee County means an even greater need for staffing.

Most of the potential for workforce housing lies in Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral, he pointed out. The challenge is to find more efficient ways to transport employees to coastal tourism and manufacturing areas. “Part of the solution is efforts expanding Lee Tran [public transportation],” he said. The goal, he added, is to keep commuters off the highways.

The county has looked to Sanibel Island for guidance in dealing with growth through service organizations such as SCCF, CHR, and FISH, leaders in their fields, Talmage said. “I’ve been inspired by the community here every day,” he added.

A former Sanibel Island resident, Talmage sat for several years on the Sanibel City Planning Commission and a number of island boards of directors, including the Sanibel Community Association, F.I.S.H., CROW, and the Sanibel Sea School. He has spent more than 30 years working in the field of local economic and community development for municipal governments and national research organizations, previously as the chief of staff to the city manager of Fort Myers.

From past work for the New York City Council to more current facilitating of a Community Real Estate Development Program for the University of South Florida’s Florida Institute of Government throughout Florida, Talmage has vast experience working with communities to improve the business climate.

“When it comes to the local economy and how it impacts the islands and vice versa, John is the expert,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “We always appreciate his perspective on the region’s future, and never more so than now.”

The next chamber business luncheon takes place at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa in Fort Myers. It will feature guest speaker Jeff Mielke, executive director of Lee County Sports Development, sponsored by Vector & Ink. Members will receive emails about registration. For more information, contact Landen Collins at 239-472-8255 or [email protected].



The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It is open 365 days a year and provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website sanibel-captiva.org receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.


For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact Landen Collins, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or [email protected].