Hurricane Ian didn't just pummel homes and businesses across Southwest Florida.
It wiped out jobs.
"It's too early to tell yet," said Amy Hanna-Eckenrode, communications director for CareerSource Southwest Florida.
CareerSource matches job seekers with employers throughout the region. Those efforts are about to kick into overdrive.
"Now we're ready to gear up and to get people back to work," Hanna-Eckenrode said.
In case you missed it: After taking big hit from Hurricane Ian, coastal resorts and hotels vow to rebuild
While it's too soon to estimate how many jobs have been lost, whether temporarily or permanently, the region's life-blood tourism industry took a big hit.
Many hotels and resorts remain closed indefinitely, with extensive damage from an unprecedented storm surge, massive flooding and high winds.
Some will reopen within a few days, weeks or months. For others, recovery could take far longer — a year or more — leaving their employees scrambling to find other work.
Top employers like the Ritz-Carlton, Naples and the JW Marriott on Marco Island, remain closed. Between them, they had thousands of employees before Ian hit.
JW Marriott plans to reopen Oct. 12.
Southwest Florida International Airport will resume normal operations Oct. 11.
More attractions are reopening soon, including the landmark Naples Zoo.
Before Ian ravaged Southwest Florida, the leisure and hospitality industry employed nearly 70,000 in Lee and Collier counties alone, according to state data. That includes workers at hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Post-Ian, tourism bureaus in Lee and Collier are discouraging visitation, focusing on recovery from the near-Category 5 storm. Rooms are needed for displaced residents and relief and recovery workers.
Clearly, the busy season won't be the same. That could hamper efforts to get people back to work.
Tourism-dependent company closing its doors
In an Instagram post, Naples Candle Co. announced it would close its doors Oct. 30, after a two-year run, citing its dependency on tourists.
The post reads: "While we did not directly receive any damage to our home or inventory, our success is dependent on the tourism that attends many farmers markets and the Southwest Florida region. All of our farmers market locations on Fort Myers Beach no longer exist and our other farmers market locations will no longer be the same after the devastating effects of the hurricane."
Some independent hoteliers set up GoFundMe sites to raise money for their employees who are without jobs. The iconic Lani Kai on Fort Myers Beach launched a campaign that is nearing its $25,000 goal.
"We are greatly saddened by the aftermath. We are just trying to give a little something to lessen the pain of a complete disaster," writes Kenny Conidaris, the campaign's organizer, and part of the family that operated the now-shuttered resort.
Many of the resort's employees lost virtually everything in the catastrophe, including their homes and cars.
Others that have set up GoFundMe sites for employees as they look to rebuild and reopen include the Best Western Plus and Pink Shell resorts on Fort Myers Beach.
With two of its three restaurants closed, the Nauti Parrot has also started a campaign to raise money for more than 50 of its employees who are now out of work, many of whom lost their homes — and virtually everything else.
Now that the initial shock of the devastating storm has started to wear off, displaced workers are starting to think about how to find other employment, said Hanna-Eckenrode.
"Up until now, everyone has been in survival mode. Truly," she said.
With all of CareerSource's locations in Southwest Florida up and running again, it's now in a position to help.
On Friday, the quasi-governmental agency deployed its first mobile unit in Collier to help displaced workers apply for disaster unemployment assistance and find temporary work — primarily in disaster recovery, through a grant program.
The unit is stationed in a Walmart parking lot at 3451 U.S. 41 East. It will be there through Sunday, operating from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., then will move around the region to reach others in need.
"There is a lot of people who've lost their vehicles, or their homes, or they don't have cell service yet, and we want to get that word out. That we will be coming to them," Hanna-Eckenrode said.
CareerSource is partnering with businesses and government agencies to help them find relief and recovery workers locally. While it's hard to know how many workers might be needed, Hanna-Eckenrode said: "When the numbers do start to come in, it will be in the thousands and it will be for more than a year."
Jobs have been lost across industries
While tourism has taken a big hit, she said, the impact on employment is much broader, affecting other industries from agriculture to real estate.
On a bright note: Businesses continue to reopen — and employers are still hiring, from grocery stores and restaurants to healthcare providers and manufacturers.
Before Ian hit, local employers were struggling to fill jobs. That includes construction companies, which will have an even greater need post-Ian.
The region's unemployment rate stood at just 2.9% (as of August), with 18,849 unemployed residents.
Lee County had the lowest unemployment rate in the five-county region (2.7%), followed by Collier (2.8%).
No notices have been filed with the state about mass layoffs in Southwest Florida — at least as of Friday afternoon.
After the pandemic hit in 2020, Florida's official layoff registry showed more than 3,600 permanent or temporary job cuts in Lee and Collier counties by larger employers.
The businesses reporting layoffs or furloughs included retail shops, restaurants, resorts and rental car agencies.
Many of those lost jobs came back quickly after Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to ease up on statewide restrictions that shuttered many businesses deemed "non-essential" — or severely limited their operations, allowing them to only offer delivery, carry-out or curbside services.
Hurricane Ian is a "different animal," so it's hard to draw comparisons when considering a timeline for recovery, Hanna-Eckenrode said.
Hurricane Ian is different than the pandemic
Amir B. Ferreira Neto, an assistant professor of economics and director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University, agrees.
He pointed out that the pandemic-related stay-at-home orders applied in less busy months — and once lifted many businesses had the ability to get up and running again quickly.
With Ian, it's different because the storm caused so much damage to businesses and infrastructure.
"I don't think we can predict the impact on employment in the region," Neto said. "We know Lee and Charlotte County have been more affected than Collier, Hendry and Glades."
Also, he said, some industries are "more susceptible to disruptions than others."
Some potential impacts from Ian on businesses and the workforce include:
A displacement of workers and families from hard-hit areas, as housing stock is depleted
A lower demand for workers in the short-term, as businesses look to rebuild
A slowdown in business growth, with a focus on recovery
"Many of the goods and services needed for this rebuilding may not be coming from our region," Neto said. "Thus, limiting the 'multiplier effect' one may expect."
On Friday, Gov. DeSantis urged all companies involved in debris removal that are in need of extra hands to hire local jobseekers, including displaced workers.
A statement read: "Many Floridians in Southwest Florida have had their businesses and livelihoods impacted by the storm and are looking for work — the private sector can help them get back on their feet by hiring locally for the length of recovery, which will support the local economy for at least the next six months."
Where to Find Help
Here are some useful phone numbers and links where displaced workers and disrupted businesses can find help post-Ian:
Businesses and private nonprofit organizations of any size may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets, through the Small Business Administration. More information can be found here.
For small businesses and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster.
In Collier, an SBA Business Recovery Center has opened at The Naples Players, 701 Fifth Ave. South.
The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program provides short-term, zero-interest working capital loans that are intended to “bridge the gap” between the time a disaster impacts a business and when it can secure longer-term recovery funding, such as federally or commercially available loans. More information can be found here.
The SBA is hiring temporary employees to assist with disaster relief. Many positions are virtual. Learn more and apply here.
More disaster recovery jobs can be found on this portal.
Disaster unemployment assistance is available to Florida businesses and residents. It's for weeks of unemployment from Sept. 25 to April 1. For assistance call 1-800-385-3920, or go to a local CareerSource Career Center. To apply online, visit this site.
Help can also be found at Disaster Recovery Centers, such as the ones at Lakes Regional Library on Bass Road and the Joseph P.D Alessandro Office Complex off Victoria Avenue in Fort Myers. In Collier, there's now one at Veterans Community Park off Immokalee Road in North Naples.
Additionally, FEMA employees are going door-to-door to help people get back on their feet.
Florida has applied for a Disaster Recovery Dislocated Worker Grant. More details will be shared soon.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has activated the Business Damage Assessment Survey. Businesses that were affected by Hurricane Ian can complete a damage assessment survey by visiting floridadisaster.biz/BusinessDamageAssessments and selecting “Hurricane Ian.”
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Ian: Hurricane's full impact on SW FL jobs still unclear