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Contractor Darren Collins talks with Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson about his motivation to rebuild his wife's salon so quickly after it was destroyed May 22. Below, the city issued Collins its first building permit nine days after the tornado.
Contractor Darren Collins talks with Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson about his motivation to rebuild his wife's salon so quickly after it was destroyed May 22. Below, the city issued Collins its first building permit nine days after the tornado.

Opinion: Joplin businesses regroup, need help to rebuild

Posted online
The shock and horror is past.

Memorials were established, moments of silence had, the commander in chief spoke, and the city is ready to move on.
Prayers continue.

That was the sense I got from the business community during a recent day spent in Joplin, my first visit since May 22.

“We will be a better city, and we will rejoice in what we will become,” Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O’Brian told a crowd of roughly 100 at the city’s June 3 First Friday Coffee, the first gathering of businesspeople since the EF-5 tornado ripped through town, damaging or destroying some 7,000 structures and more than 400 businesses.

O’Brian stressed that the tragic events were behind the community, and business leaders would now move forward.

As Joplin Tri-State Business Journal Editor Chris Roberts gave me a tour of his wrecked city, we came across Joplin’s first rebuilding effort.

“Tornado No. 1” building permit belongs to Darren Collins, who is reconstructing his wife’s Cut Loose Salon on the same foundation at 2602 S. Beyers. Collins also owns Galena, Kan.-based Collins General Contracting.

“They want to see their city rebuilt,” Collins told me, admitting he had to stomp his feet at City Hall before getting the green light.

The self-financed project is refreshing in a sea of rubble, just down the street from St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

“I’ve got about 20 houses in this rubble pit,” Collins said, pointing behind the salon building and quickly adding he’s glad all persons survived in those properties.

As businesses push ahead, they do need help, and businesses are helping businesses.

“This is personal. This is going to be a really tight community when this is said and done,” said Chris Lauridsen, the owner of Carthage-based Four State Office Products.

For his part, Lauridsen has arranged for storage boxes and a skid of water through his company’s manufacturer relationships. I nearly tripped on these “bankers boxes” adorned with Four State stickers as I walked through the hallway of the Joseph Newman Innovation and Technology Center to Joplin Tri-State Business Journal’s newsroom. The U.S. Small Business Administration is handing out the boxes through its Recovery Center at the Newman building.

They also need tornado recovery assistance from outsiders. Aid in all shapes and sizes already has poured in from all corners of this nation – from more than $1 million raised by an American Red Cross chapter in Columbia to a case of beer sent in a care package to the Joplin Globe from a peer daily newspaper in Omaha, Neb. Four State’s Lauridsen is awaiting word from Hewlett-Packard about printers the California company had agreed to contribute upon his request.

A handful of million-dollar recovery donations have been pledged by such corporations as Walmart Stores (NYSE: WMT) and Home Depot (NYSE: HD) – both of which lost stores and employees to the storm – and closer to home, Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products and Carthage-based Leggett & Platt Inc. (NYSE: LEG).

Donations in the thousands of dollars are coming in that add up to millions.

Even as so many businesses, nonprofits and individuals jump up to help, there is a dark side – companies considered vultures chasing tornado dollars made available by insurance companies or the government.

“Things are going to get weird,” said builder Collins, who’s seen several out-of-town “wheelers and dealers” seeking to make a buck on the devastation of the city. “This is not a gold mine for people to come in and take advantage of us.”

He cited a $6,500 tree debris removal quote that was performed for $500 by a local.
Price-gouging is a harsh reality, as the attorney general and Better Business Bureau recently warned. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster last week obtained a temporary restraining order against Kansas City towing company Tow & Recovery Inc. for charging above fair-market prices and, in some cases, towing without owner authorization.

A tornado economy is emerging, and it is multifaceted. Some businesses and services are greatly sought right now – construction contractors and suppliers, food services, car sales – while the short-term outlook for other segments is bleak – cable and satellite companies and manufacturing. As I surveyed the damage and talked to businesspeople, I noticed a truckload of TAMKO roofing shingles traveling through the decimated streets. It’s the first of many, I’m sure.

These homeowners and businesspeople are takings steps out of the wreakage, but they do need help.

For the record, help from Springfield businesses is welcome.

“We see Springfield as our neighbor,” the outspoken Collins said. “We love Springfield.”

At SBJ Publishing, owner of the business journals in Springfield and Joplin, we’re doing our part on editorial and advertising fronts. Dedicated news coverage, especially in Joplin’s June 6 special issue, is intended to inform and connect businesspeople on the mission to rebuild the city. Our advertising department has launched the Rebuild Joplin Businesses ad program, which redirects 50 percent of a company’s ad sale to either an advertising package for a selected company – perhaps one that is damaged and getting on its feet – or an advertising relief fund that provides funding to business applicants adversely affected by the tornado. Advertisers in the program will appear regularly in both publications’ Rebuild Joplin Businesses advertising pages, which also list contact information for disaster response agencies.

Other Springfield businesses, such as Papa John’s, Starbucks and Pizza Hut, have sent staff to cover shifts in Joplin. JMark Business Solutions has targeted displaced workers in Joplin in its quest to hire a few computer network technicians.

And chamber of commerce staff members from across the region are volunteering to work shifts at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce to handle the larger volume of calls.

These actions singularly will not change Joplin, but together businesses helping businesses will rebuild the city.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.
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