John Talmage, director of the Lee County Economic Development Office, addressed the post-hurricane, post-pandemic state of the economy in Lee County, and specifically Sanibel and Captiva islands, at the July 19 monthly SanCap Chamber business meeting at Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort in Fort Myers.

Honing in on the islands, Talmage, a former Sanibel resident, praised the Sanibel Plan as a model the county is now turning to and advised chamber members to take advantage of the philanthropic aspirations of new corporations in the county. He told them to “be nice” to restoration workers.

“That’s our lifeline right now,” he said. “Be nice to them because it’s hard work they’re doing. It’s hot out there; they’re not working in air-conditioning.”

Talmage gave a rundown on diverse new brands that have set up business or are looking to move to Lee County during and since the pandemic – from bathing suit and women’s cosmetics manufacturers to a high-performance race track and IKEA.

“If I have one message to say is that the corporate community, they haven’t forgotten [you],” he said. “They want to find ways, they want to help… to find ways to effectively help with their giving. I think if we can do that together, it will be one piece of the recovery. So, please think of ways that the corporate community can assist, can join, can enable. They ask every day. We have to have answers for them.”

Talmage envisioned “celebration days” to bring corporate groups out for cocktails and an island tour. “Not to look at what was destroyed, but to look at what’s come back… because we cannot let the rest of the county forget what happened.”

He touched on challenges facing the county as it grows by 90 people every day – traffic, infrastructure, work force needs, transportation, water. He gave an overview of solutions in the county’s purview, such as running water taxis, extending roads, seeing a new interstate interchange, widening bridges, and moving job opportunities to the north.

“We would never expect the same solutions for downtown Fort Myers to be a solution for South Seas,” Talmage said. “What we’ve got to do better as a county government is not being caught off-guard by things that emerge that we should have known would emerge. … We are as much a proud advocate of the Sanibel Plan as anyone. We’re going to go back to a community planning stage that we didn’t think we’d go to for a while… most communities have not had that benefit.”

“I have nothing but respect for John and his allegiance to Sanibel and vast experience in the community development field — from the New York City Council to island non-profits,” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “We thank him for an honest and exceedingly relevant look into our economic future.”


Lai also presented a short state-of-the-chamber report at the meeting, informing membership about the chamber’s three-pronged mission, including destination marketing, which has come once again to the forefront as the islands community recovers. He announced the postponement of the 2023 Luminary and the chamber’s role in leading the city of Sanibel’s 50th anniversary Nov. 5, 2024 through Luminary 2025.


FP Property Restoration and Charitable Foundation of the Islands sponsored the July luncheon. The chamber has scheduled the next business lunch meeting for Wednesday, Aug. 24, at Rosalita’s Cantina on Sanibel Island, featuring speaker Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation.



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. The Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. Its website,, receives over 1.3 million visits per year. For more information about the chamber, visit or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].