Business groups collaborate on COVID-19 policy advocacy | SarasotaMay 21, 2020
On April 30, the day after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans for resuming some economic activity after a statewide stay-at-home order, leaders of various Sarasota business associations met to discuss what reopening should look like on a local level.
The group, the Coalition of Business Associations, produced a series of recommendations it provided to local officials. COBA advocated for such policies as expedited permitting and waiving fees as businesses reoriented themselves around COVID-19 safety guidelines.
As it lobbies to take action addressing the economic downturn associated with a public health emergency, COBA says it has gotten mixed results. Christine Robinson, a COBA member and the executive director of The Argus Foundation, praised Sarasota County and the city of North Port for implementing changes and sharing information with the group.
Robinson said some other officials have either struggled to grasp the severity of the financial crisis facing businesses or not been communicative with COBA at all. She expressed concern that other local governments were not being responsive enough to the needs of the business community.
“They need to go out and hear these stories and understand the sense of urgency,” Robinson said. “There is some disconnect happening right now.”
Back to business
COBA is composed of groups including The Argus Foundation, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange and Visit Sarasota County. In total, the group says it represents more than 7,000 employers in the region.
Robinson said the group produced its recommendations after looking elsewhere in the state to see how communities were responding to the first phase of reopening. She said most of the items — including waiving permitting and costs for health and safety improvements, waiving or expediting permitting for outdoor business activity and temporarily suspending code provisions prohibiting business signage — were intended to allow businesses to move swiftly.
Robinson said even those changes would likely not be enough. She hoped the proposals would be enough to mitigate some of the losses and prevent businesses from closing.
“Most of it is about keeping employees employed,” Robinson said. “You’re not going to make a profit on 25% or 50% capacity.”
Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin said the city has adopted several of the policies COBA is promoting. On April 24, the city waived permitting fees for construction necessary to comply with health and social distancing guidelines. On May 1, the city adjusted zoning regulations to allow for expanded outdoor dining, and on May 13, it announced a new temporary outdoor cafe permit system with no fees.
The city also announced Wednesday it was restricting vehicular access to portions of two downtown streets to allow for expanded pedestrian and commercial activity. This weekend, the…