SWFL business owners reject new ‘Lake O’ loan program

Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. – The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity activated an emergency loan program on Thursday to help local businesses recoup losses suffered from  Lake Okeechobee water releases.

But some Southwest Florida business owners said they will not participate.

The department surveyed more than 100 businesses affected by record high waters at Lake Okeechobee. The Pink Shell Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach was one of 27 businesses from Southwest Florida that reported economic loss. The resort lost between $250,000 and $500,000 and laid off 12 employees, according to reports.

David Ribeca of Sea Level Fishing Charters and Eco Tours in Cape Coral said he has had more cancellations that he remembers in his 18 years with the businesses.

“It’s the worst I’ve just ever ever seen. I just lost money in the last 60 to 90 days,” Ribeca said.

Fred Simcic owns Snoot Hut Bait and Tackle in Cape Coral and said his business is down 20 percent because tourists don’t want to fish in murky brown waters.

“A tourist will spend in our store, on average $10 to $20 a day when they are here,” Simcic said. “When you don’t have that tourist here, that’s $100, 200 a week that we don’t see.”

Both Ribeca and Simcic have explained their problems to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Morgan McCord of the Florida Department of Economic Development said Ribeca and Simcic are valuable assets to the state’s economy.

“We know small businesses are the backbone of our economy here in the state so DEO is committed to doing everything we can to help get these businesses back on their feet,” she said.

But the business owners said the last thing they want is to participate in a loan program.

“I don’t need a loan. I just need more customers,” Ribeca said.

Simcic agrees.

“I don’t need a loan,” he said. “I just need people to come in and buy product, go fishing.”

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