PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - On October 1, 2018, Tim Jacobi opened Angry Tuna in Panama City Beach. But just nine days later, Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle, putting a wrench in the plans for many restaurants near Pier Park that were counting on the fall events.
Local restaurants have trouble filling their staff after Hurricane Michael displaces many residents. (WJHG/WECP)
"Some of the events were impacted and were pushed back or just weren't able to happen at that time," said Lacee Rudd, Public Relations Manager, Visit Panama City Beach.
In 2019, summer tourism numbers kept up with previous years, but because so many people were displaced after Hurricane Michael, restaurants had trouble keeping enough employees.
"Well, the first challenge was people. I mean, a lot of people left, they had to find other work because their businesses were closed," said Jacobi.
Employees were also driven out by the lack of affordable housing.
"Most of the people that work for me were transient, so they paid rent, they didn't own homes, so they had to find other places to rent and it was almost impossible in this area. So they had to actually leave," said Jacobi.
"There was so much housing torn up inside the city where a lot of our help comes from, that it really caused a burden for a lot of people out here," said Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas.
Despite the storm, tourism officials said the number of visitors was steady.
"We finished with a really good summer this year, visitor numbers were in comparison to 2018, or even slightly above that," said Rudd.
From July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, Panama City Beach collected more than $18 million from tourism, about $5 million more than the previous year, according to a study by the Tourist Development Council.
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