Businessman Bob Rommel files for state House seat

Sue Keller

Naples entrepreneur Bob Rommel has announced he is running for Florida House District 106, a seat currently held by Kathleen Passidomo who announced she is running for state Senate.

Rommel, president of the Caxambas Republic Club, is the second Republican to file for the seat. Georgia Hiller filed for the opening in January.

The district encompasses all of coastal Collier County.

In 2012, Rommel stepped into the political ring as a member of the Caxambas Republican Club when he began helping Trey Radel get elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He then worked in Curt Clawson’s successful congressional campaign, Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election bid and helped two local candidates running for school board.

Rommel and his wife, Sandra, originally from New Jersey, moved to Southwest Florida 13 years ago.

In New Jersey, he owned a mortgage company that started with two people and grew to 120 employees. Over the next five years the company expanded to several locations around the U.S. When he received an offer to buy the company he sold, and then stayed on a couple years before moving to Southwest Florida.

Rommel says he always dreamed of opening a bar-restaurant. When the opportunity arose, the purchase of a sports bar in Naples put him back in business. Not long after, he received a call from a friend wanting him to partner with a bar in New Jersey. Rommel agreed. Then he bought Bistro 41 in Fort Myers.

“Now all of a sudden I went from a retired mortgage broker to owing three restaurants,” said Rommel, who now owns a fourth.

“I see so many laws and regulations that are passed that affect small business, which affects consumers and jobs,” said Rommel. Florida has a 6 percent tax on commercial rent. The property owner also pays property tax.

“We are the only state that has it,” he says. “Whether it’s Fort Myers, Naples or Marco Island, it’s small business that makes a community survives. That tax hurts business.”

Rommel believes what sets him apart is that he has signed the front of a paycheck for the past 25 years. Visiting Tallahassee recently, he met several legislators.

“So they are making decisions and they don’t realize their decisions affect other people. I do know because I see how expensive insurance is and taxes going up, not just in the state. It deters people from wanting to become an entrepreneur.”

Rommel agrees the Florida economy is good now because the overall economy is good.

“But we need to think outside the box,” says Rommel who sees that Florida for so long has relied on tourism, hospitality and agriculture. “Florida is great at attracting hotels, but needs to attract technology companies, too.

He strongly believes that if Florida didn’t have rent taxes, it would attract more businesses.

“In the restaurant business, efficiency is the difference between making money and losing money,” he said. Creating jobs to keep young adults graduating from college in Florida is another top priority. “We have incredible colleges all over the state and many young adults who graduate, the first thing they do is get on a plane and go to another state to get a job.”