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Recovery Yes, But Challenges Remain For Joplin's Business Community

Produced by Mike Smith, this Sense of Community report looks at one business's successsful reopening after being destroyed by a tornado.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY BROADCAST 23 MAY, 2012

 (Opens with SOUND of construction underway in Joplin Missouri, including hammers hitting nails, pneumatic  nail guns, truss installation, and a Bobcat brand  front end loader)

Producers voice:   “In Joplin Missouri, it didn’t take long for the sounds of repair and rebuilding to replace sounds of removing 600,000 cubic yards of debris after a mile wide E-F5 tornado destroyed a third of the city a year and a day ago.  For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Mike Smith. 

Along its 22 mile long path in and around Joplin, the May 22nd2011 storm destroyed 7,000 homes, damaged over a thousand more, and destroyed 18,000 vehicles.  161 persons lost their lives and another 1,150 were injured in the tornado.  Joplin’s business community took a hit too as well over 500 business and over 5,000 jobs were affected by the storm, but as Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O’Brian tells us, most of the city’s businesses damaged or destroyed by the storm a year ago made quick work of getting back to work.  “There were about 560 employers directly impacted by the storm, another 400 with indirect impact.  There were a number of them within a 60 day window after the storm which had the doors open and were ready willing and able to serve the community”

Today, of the 560 small and large businesses directly affected by the tornado, around 450 are back.  Some because of private insurance including business interruption coverage, others are open again with help from governmental or private relief programs.  Some operate from temporary locations while others are doing business in new, permanent facilities on the same lot as before the tornado.  (SOUND of customers at the counter of Chick-fil-A in Joplin being greeted by employee)

Raymond Dunaway is General Manager of the Joplin Chick-fil-A on Range Line Road just south of 20thStreet, an area hard hit by the tornado:  “After the tornado hit, there was a little remains of the building that was here , a skeleton shell of it.  The whole front of the store was blown out and parts of our dining room were outside.   After the insurance adjusters came they determined that we were fit to be completely demolished and they even re-did the foundation”. 

Tuesday May 24th, less than 48 hours after the tornado hit, the president of the Chick-fil-A chain visited what remained of his Joplin franchise to begin the process of rebuilding.  Raymond Dunaway says his boss’s, boss’s, boss is a hands on kind of a guy:  “He flew out here Tuesday and walked the premises with us and bless his heart, he wanted to pick up everything he could.  He was in a suit and tie and just started bending over and picking up everything he could.  He proceeded to make phone calls and we got word a couple of weeks later that he was going to do everything he could to get us reopened.  Once they started demolition of the previous building to the time we were done and ready to reopen took 8 weeks.  It usually takes 20-24 weeks.  Come September 1stwe were reopened and business came back immediately.  That first week, we were as busy as we ever have been, but not just that, we had a lot of individuals who said they were happy to have a place that made it feel like things were getting back to normal.  Our purpose of reopening, and this comes straight from the (Chick-fil-A) president, wasn’t for business sake.  It was for Joplin’s sake, to take care of the people of Joplin.”

Since its September 1streopening, Dunaway’s store has seen sales levels 20-30% higher than pre-storm times, and is now employing 80 individuals, which is 20 more than before 22 May 2011.  At 4:30 this afternoon we’ll continue the discussion of Joplin’s business community 1 year after and hear from Keith Bennett of Bennett’s Paradise Donuts, about the challenges his business faces following the events of May 22nd2011.

For KSMU, I’m Mike Smith.