Joplin business community: Best is yet to come

Eric Olson, SBJ Editor

I’m in Joplin today, my first visit since the May 22 tornado.

With morning business meetings and press conferences on the agenda, I’ve
only had a quick glimpse of the physical damage on Range Line Road.

Our first stop was to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce for its 7:30 a.m.
First Friday Coffee meeting.

Being the first gathering of chamber members since the storm, the mood was
high-spirited and focused on recovery. Of course, questions of concern for
fellow business owners bounced around the room. Then, conversations turned toward the future.

“We will be a better city, and we will rejoice in what we will become,”
said Joplin chamber President Rob O’Brian, addressing the crowd of roughly 100.

O’Brian’s brief comments stressed that the tragic events and memorial were
behind the community and business leaders would now strive forward.

Just minutes earlier, Carthage-based Four State Office Products owner Chris
Lauridsen told me tornado recovery was bringing together the business
community.

“This is personal. This is going to be a really tight community when this is
said and done,” he said.

For his part, Lauridsen has arranged for storage boxes and a skid of water
through his company’s manufacturer relationships. I saw evidence when I
walked through the hallway of the Joseph Newman Innovation and Technology Center to Joplin Tri-State Business Journal’s newsroom and nearly tripped on a stack of “Bankers Boxes” with Four State stickers on them.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is handing out the boxes through its Recovery Center set up on the first floor. Lauridsen is awaiting word from Hewlett-Packard about printers the California company had agreed to contribute upon his
request.

Chamber staff members from around the region have united to assist Joplin
chamber employees. Workers from chambers in Carthage, Neosho, Pittsburg,
Kan., and Springfield are volunteering to answer phones and handle clerical
work for half- and full-day shifts at the Joplin chamber office, said Sabrina Drackert, director of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce, who is organizing the volunteer charge.

Drackert said she called Springfield chamber president Jim Anderson about
the need, and he quickly challenged his staff to respond.

Brad Bodenhausen, executive vice president at the Springfield chamber, was
at the First Friday Coffee, here to spend the day helping his Joplin colleagues. He wasn’t sure what tasks were in store for him, but said, “I’ll do whatever I’m asked.”

That’s the spirit in this city.

Other examples are Paul Whitehill of Images in Tile filling the bed of his
pickup with ice to serve as a mobile cooler to cleanup workers and the
Hancock family, owners of Federal Protection, delivering daily meals and
necessities to employee Carlos Rivera’s home, where 23 of his family members took refuge the week following the tornado.

The people of Joplin have exhibited resiliency through these actions.

On the way out, I ran into Rick Hale II, an account manager at
Springfield-based JMark Business Solutions. Hale said the company is hiring
a few computer networking technicians and targeting Joplin in hopes of
finding jobs for qualified displaced workers. Ideally, he said, the hires
would relocate to Springfield but telecommuting is not out of the question.

Seems a great way to help sustain the businesspeople of this community. Only thing better, they say, would be to frequent their businesses so people can stay employed.

The wheels are churning in Joplin, and it really does feel like the best is yet to come.

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