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SENSE OF COMMUNITY: 4:30 PM BROADCAST OF 23 MAY, 2012
Voice of KSMU producer Mike Smith: Exactly a year and a day ago, Joplin Missouri was hit by one of the most powerful and deadly tornados on record. For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Mike Smith.
The twister, rated by the National Weather Service as E-F5 with winds over 200 mph, touched down in the SW part of the city at 5:34pm Sunday May 22nd2011. It tracked E-NE through Joplin (then tracked slightly to the south) for about 38 minutes and left 161 persons dead and 1,150 injured along its 22 mile path of destruction. Today as our week long Sense of Community Series continues, we look the storms effect on and recovery of Joplin’s business community.
Rob O’Brian is President of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce: “There were about 560 employers that were directly affected by the storm. Another 400 had indirect impact either in loss of power, initial loss of customers, or they had team members injured or killed. 5,000 jobs were also affected, and really our focus has been on the 560. To date, almost 450 of those are back. After the event we had a number of businesses that moved very quickly to find temporary locations. Others were taking a little more time, and so we really began focusing on pushing the reminder that a lot of the businesses in Joplin were still open, untouched by the storm. A number of them that were impacted by the storm reopened, and that the best way to support keeping jobs in the community was certainly to patronize those businesses and make sure they are able to survive and keep those jobs in place. While we have about 80% of these employers back, more than 90% of the 5,000 job positions impacted have remained in place through the months since the tornado.”
For some businesses though, keeping those jobs in place can be challenging. With his wife Rhonda, Keith Bennett owns and operates Bennett’s Paradise Donuts, located near the NE corner of Main at 20thin Joplin. We were first introduced to Keith on the June 2011 Sense of Community Series when his store reopened after the tornado. The Bennett’s have full insurance, including business interruption coverage and were able to reopen their shop about 6 weeks after the tornado hit. Today, Keith says: “As far as competitors are concerned, I think we’re all dividing up a much smaller pie. My sales are down about 30%, so that takes most of the profit out of it right now. The business was really strong when we first reopened, probably for the 1st3-4 months. We had a lot of people in town helping out, a lot of groups, a lot of visitors. Then after the first of the year, it dropped off considerably.”
Keith Bennett says that’s because many of his previous and potential customers don’t live near or travel through his location area anymore: “You know, we don’t know what the new normal is, and what it’s going to be. We are trying to figure out what normal is. When you take 7,000 homes out of the swath very near to my business, the general traffic flow is less. That does affect your business. We also had a High School just a couple of blocks down from me that’s gone, and an elementary school right behind me 1 block that’s gone. So that was all business I would get every morning with kids walking to school and parents on their way to take kids to school. If you want your favorite small business to stay in business, you need to vote with your dollars. Shop at those places, because it’s a tough time for all of us. We appreciate all the great help we’ve received from all over. We’ve rebuilt a lot of buildings and we’ve got a long way to go, but we also need to rebuild a lot of people and their lives too.”
Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O’Brian says the JACC Foundation has created the “Business Recovery Fund”. This will provide small business short term business stabilization loans, working capital loans at very low interest rates: “These will help them reassess their marketing or business plan, look for new opportunities, but also maybe some short term funding to help carry them until enough of these rooftops come back that that market is there for them again.”
For information on the JACC Business Recovery Fund, and links to other support initiatives, joplincc.com For the Sense of Community Series on KSMU and ksmu.org, I’m Mike Smith.