Joplin economy rebounds

Bekah Collins, Staff Writer

In the recent months following the May tornado that devastated most of the Joplin area, city officials are pleased to see business booming despite the loss of several prominent businesses in town.  

Sam Anselm, assistant city manager, acredits most of the revenue increase to volunteers who, while helping the city rebuild physically also aided in the rebuilding of Joplin’s economy.  Anselm said he was thankful for the $18 million worth of donated resources, both in tangible goods and physical labor, from volunteers.

He remembers the abundance of support directly following the storm, saying “It was hard to walk down the street without being offered a free meal.”

Sales tax revenue for the city of Joplin rose nearly 7 percent since last year alone.

“This is definitely one of our better years, financially, since 2007 when the economy started to dip,” Anselm said

Lodging tax revenue increased by 18 percent since the tornado, largely due to displaced residents opting to reside in hotels, rather than government assisted temporary housing.

Patrick Tuttle, director of the convention and visitors bureau, estimated that hotels in the Joplin area operated at 100 percent occupancy for 60-90 days following the storm.

More than 530 places of employment were destroyed or significantly damaged by the EF-5 tornado, and only nine months later nearly 85 percent have re-opened their doors.

Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, worries that some small businesses won’t be coming back. Reasons vary. “They’ve got their insurance, they’ve gotten SBA assistance to try and close up things, and really they don’t want to start over again,”  O’Brian said.

 He estimates 10 percent of damaged or destroyed businesses will not rebuild, most of them small and locally owned.

“We think there are some new businesses on the horizon,” O’Brian said.

The commercial broker community has indicated that a number of national chain businesses were looking to open branches in Joplin, but were unable to find suitable locations. Now, with the healing economy and vacated commercial property, O’Brian thinks they may revisit the idea.