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Reopen Florida Task Force member speaks exclusively with Fox 4 about progress

Posted at 6:58 AM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 07:58:45-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla -- The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our nation to its core, and forced us to find ways to navigate unprecedented waters. During these uncertain times, our team is focused on telling the stories that will help us as a community rebound.

In an exclusive interview, Fox 4's Jessica Alpern speaks one-on-one with one of the leaders tasked with developing a plan to re-open our state.

Of the nearly two dozen leaders who make up Governor Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force Executive Committee, is a man who knows Southwest Florida better than anyone. In fact, he may be the man whose vision shaped the place you live or work. Syd Kitson is the leader behind the development of Babcock Ranch, America's first solar powered town and what remains the largest preservation land purchase in Florida history.

In an exclusive interview with Alpern, Kitson shared the conversations happening behind-the-scenes to get Florida back to normal.

"The question everybody's asking themselves is how fast, how quickly can we recover," said Kitson.

"A lot of that depends on how quickly people get back to work, but doing it in a safe manner. If we go back to work and all of the sudden instances of hospitalizations start to go up and more deaths are recorded, all this could be for not. That's why we have to be very thoughtful and precise in how we go forward," he added.

Kitson has been uniquely identified as someone who can help Florida do just that, for a number of reasons. He currently serves as Chair of the Board of Governors for the State University System. Then there's the vast perspective that comes from his business experience at Babcock.

"We have K-9 public charter schools. We have a restaurant, we have other outlets, we have retail outlets. It's a town. So I think the perspective of understanding not only the higher education part, but also all the different and diverse jobs and businesses that we have at Babcock Ranch offer probably a unique perspective," he said.

And it's one he hopes will help shape a successful plan to bring his fellow Southwest Floridians back to normal.

"A lot of these businesses are hurting, they're hurting bad. When they get up in the morning and that paycheck isn't there, the assistance they thought hasn't come in yet, it's very very frustrating. I think they just need to realize that there is help on the way and there's hope," he said.

Right now the task force is in its early stages. In addition to its executive committee which has met two days straight now, Governor DeSantis has also announced its Industry Working Group on Tourism, Construction, Real Estate, Recreation, Retail and Transportation

"All the things that are being talked about actually apply to Southwest Florida. Regardless of the industry. Whether it be tourism or construction, or the restaurant industries and food services, that's all Southwest Florida," Kitson said.

He said there's no plans to simply flip a switch and re-open our state. And the task force goes beyond the committee and working group that's been identified so far.

"When people see this segment, I hope they know that not only do you have industry experts working on this. But also just small business owners to medium size business owners. All are weighing in and talking about what they need, the things they need to do and want to do to get this economy started again. But again, how they can do it in a safe and thoughtful way. How we can do it so that people have the confidence to come back into our economy," he said.

Another thing that stood out from Alpern's conversation with Kitson was something he said over and over again. He said "we have to get this right." It's something he said the governor and everyone involved in re-opening Florida is laser-focused on. Saying there's no room for mistakes here.

And Fox 4 wants you to know it's created a community to let you connect with others dealing with the same issues you are. Join our Facebook group: The Rebound Southwest Florida to get advice from others and to share story ideas with our team.

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