Author

Steve Stefanides, is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com.


It seems as though we were just complaining about the rush of shoppers coming up to the Thanksgiving Holiday and how difficult it was to traverse through the aisles at Publix or Winn Dixie before our company would be arriving.

If you’ve been here for any length of time at all you can just sense the increase in the numbers of visitors that have descended upon our little spit of sand on the Gulf of Mexico. That increase is more than just palpable to those that have any history here on the island and in reality, there isn’t much we can do about it, no matter what anyone says.

My sympathies go out to the shop and restaurant owners here in our community. For the first time in the over 35 years I’ve owned, the numbers of signs adorning the entrances of those establishments have been astonishing. As I’ve spoken to many of those owners, they openly speak about the formula that has created this recipe for their migraines this season.

The lack of staff, or availability of those willing to work, has proven to be a major challenge for the small business owners. Employers such as the Marriott, Hilton, the Carvelli Group and even the Island Club have had access to special programs that allow for special dispensation for larger employers to bring in those willing to work.

Another major problem that has exasperated the employee issue has been that of affordable workforce housing. This is not just an issue for service employees, but for others.

I was on an elevator at NCH the other day for an appointment with my cardiologist. I had the opportunity to speak with a nurse who was beside herself, as she was so frustrated in trying to find suitable housing for herself and her two children. Even though she had been offered a well-paying job at the hospital she could not make the numbers work when she would sit down and figure out her budget and what would be left over after living expenses had been deducted.

Recent numbers show that in some areas of South Florida 60% plus of renters are paying over 50% of their disposable income on housing expenses. This is accelerating the unfortunate problems which come when families are forced into homelessness and no area of the nation or here in Florida is exempt from those issues. 

The retention of employees is a major issue and directly impacts taxpayers as they are forced to pay more out of their pockets each year to fill those vacant positions and bear the costs of training new employees and the loss of productivity and a reduction of effective delivery of services.

Recently Community Development Director, Daniel Smith, admitted to council that the recent resignation of two of his staff members will have a direct impact on his department’s effectiveness, given the projects they have that lie before them. They are presently advertising for those positions, and they are not the only ones.

Over the last two years due to the COVID Crisis we have exhausted many within the service industry and healthcare. Collier County never saw a slowdown in visitors or demands for service. These men and women are just human, and we have exhausted them, whether they be teachers, nurses, restaurant or construction workers. One has to only ask how much more they can take.

It’s not unusual to see signs posted in doorways asking customers to show restraint in their demands as they are understaffed and are doing the best they can. Unfortunately, social media is not as forgiving as those signs request, and the postings are somewhat discouraging at times.

These storm clouds have been building on the horizon for many years now in regard to housing issues. The impact from turning a blind eye to them is now beginning to be felt throughout the area as counties are seeking to entice workers to not drive over county lines but stay local.

Companies are looking to pay bonuses for hiring on, but those potential employees are finding housing costs are eating up that potential windfall of the bonus, therefore negating that incentive.

Recently Sheriff Kevin Rambosk reported he was 100 deputies short and was diligently working on recruiting new hires. Police Chief Tracy Frazzano was faced with similar challenges on Marco Island and embarked on an aggressive hiring program which continues today.

In my opinion Florida should be doing more to entice higher paying clean industries to locate to Southwest Florida. We should not just be willing to rely on tourism and real estate. Higher paying tech sector jobs could provide us the jumpstart necessary to help balance the availability of better paying careers. Careers that allow families to prosper rather than just subsist on minimum wages. Jobs that don’t involve a threat to our environment but provide families with hope for a better future ahead.


 

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