New study shows just how devastating COVID-19 has been to the SWFL economy

Posted at 7:26 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 21:30:30-04

UPDATE 9:27 p.m. 03/31/2020: Golden Boat Lifts reached out to us to clarify what the company is doing for its employees. The owner tells us the company is paying for the healthcare of all employees who were laid off, and once the COVID-19 crisis ends, the company hopes to hire back 100% of the employees it let go.


A new study, just released on Monday by Florida Gulf Coast University, is giving us a better idea of the economic impact COVID-19 is having on Southwest Florida.

What it shows is the majority of companies are seeing a significant decrease in business, and small businesses are getting hit the worst. In many ways, the study is confirming what Dr. Chris Westley at FGCU said he already suspected: That businesses are feeling a significant negative impact form COVID-19. But the initial numbers are even more surprising, because they show that about 20% of companies are laying off almost their entire workforce.

One of the people feeling that impact is Steven Farmer.

“I got a phone call saying that, we had to lay you off because of COVID-19," said Farmer.

Farmer worked at Golden Boat Lifts in north Fort Myers. He said, with a mortgage to pay and a family to take care of, he’s in a desperate situation.

“My fear is of getting deeper and deeper in debt, and eventually, not even being able to have a place to live," said Farmer.

Dr. Chris Westley said Farmer is one of many people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

“It’s really devastated the small business owners, relative to the larger ones," said Westley.

His new study shows 63% of companies said their business has dropped by half.

“Their revenues have fallen by a large amount, and businesses can only stay in business if their revenues at least equal their costs," said Westley.

Westley just began his study last week, tracking several economic aspects of the crisis, but has already heard from almost 1,000 companies. He is still working on the final product.

Meanwhile, Farmer is trying to file for unemployment, to get some kind of income.

“To know that, hey I might be able to make my house payment this month, or I might be able to get food this month, and right now, the stress is just overload, because I have no clue what’s going to happen," said Farmer.

Notable graphs from the study: