SOUTHWEST FLORIDA – In one of the most difficult times for companies in recent history, we are experiencing an unexpected boom – a record number of startups.
Despite the worsening pandemic and economic fallout, Southwest Florida is welcoming new restaurants, shops, and startups.
The same goes for most of America. According to the US Census Bureau, more business applications were filed in 2020 than any previous year, up 24 percent from 2019. The startup boom continued in 2021, with numbers skyrocketing through May and then only slightly in June have decreased.
COVID-19 has forced many into unemployment. You have no choice but to find a new job or, in some cases, start your own business. Others are using the pandemic as a stimulus to pursue their dreams, which is the case with JD and Jennifer Damas.
The couple built their brand new Estero business on love, faith and spice. They opened a Caribbean-inspired restaurant called Food Rock Cafe.
“I’ve been here from Haiti for 24 years and it’s been a blessing. I can finally give something back to the community. It’s just a blessing and I couldn’t ask for more, ”said Chef JD, co-owner of the Food Rock Cafe.
It all started last October when the Damas family dropped everything, collected their savings and started a food truck.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, but we wanted to take a leap of faith,” said Chef JD.
Before that, Chef JD worked in other restaurants. His wife and co-owner, Jennifer, is a nurse.
“After COVID occurred, it was like a slippery slope for me,” said Jennifer.
JD’s job as head chef was also getting tougher.
“When I got the call from my principal saying I want you all to fire just to see the tears in your eyes, I thought this is it for me, I can’t do this anymore,” he said .
At this point, the couple, parents of five children, began serving good food on the go.
“A lot of people were afraid to go out to eat but still wanted to eat well,” said JD.
Fast forward to now. At the end of June they opened the Food Rock Cafe and made this truck even more stable.
“I’m here right now? It’s crazy during Covid, “said JD.
As crazy as it sounded at first, he finally saw the sign he was looking for. COVID was the catalyst and the new Damas ad is one of many that is popping up.
“On the one hand, we’ve seen this corporate migration to Southwest Florida and Florida as a whole, but we’ve also seen a lot of new companies emerging,” said Dr. Amir Nato, the director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at the FGCU.
Dr. NATO said it was customary – if a major event causes disruption, we can expect changes.
“Companies die and new things are created. We saw how many people were laid off due to the pandemic and they had to make ends meet so they had to look for these new opportunities too, ”he said.
Other economists agree.
“It happened after the 2008-09 global financial crisis when we went from 27 and a half million registered companies to 30 million registered companies almost overnight,” said Carl Gould, President of 7 Stage Advisors.
Gould has helped many professionals embark on new career paths. He expects more people to enter the so-called “gig economy” and said the start-up boom could continue for the next year or two. This is a good thing for the consumer and for the economy as a whole.
“New companies can create jobs, they can offer new opportunities in terms of innovation,” said NATO.
But it’s also important to remember all of the challenges that come with starting a new business.
“Many of them will not survive the first five years. So if we can do our part and support these companies, we will likely have a more resilient regional economy, which we all want – more amenities, more businesses and a thriving economy, ”said NATO.
JD and the Damas family hold on to their beliefs, tend to love, and throw in all of these spices.
“The way I see it, COVID can do two things to you. Either it will break you and you can stay in the negative thoughts like oh my gosh this is awful. Or you can look at different ways to reproduce or reevaluate yourself and use a bad result to make it a good result, ”said Jennifer.
What advice to others looking to start a business? Do it. JD and Jennifer said there will be a lot of challenges, but don’t let fear stop you.
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