United After the Tornado, Joplin is Still Serving Visitors

September 8, 2011

Destination Joplin

By Heather McNeill

After the devastating tornado that hit
Joplin on May 22, 2011, recovery efforts
will understandably take time. Yet, even
now, just months after the calamity,
many of the community’s businesses are
still operating, and facilities are still open
and able to serve visitors and meetings.
Joplin’s fighting spirit is proving to be a
lasting example of how to rebuild after a
natural disaster.

Within days after the tornado, the
community banded together to connect
displaced residents and families with
resources. The business community and
hospitality industries stepped up, and they
have continued to assist. With each day
that has passed since the disaster, Joplin
has made greater progress toward recovery.
“We will come back even better than
before. We are working hard to keep our
neighborhood culture intact, with the
same feel as before the storm,” said Patrick
Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention
& Visitors Bureau. “We are open for
business. Just bring your work boots and
gloves to dig in and help.”

The effects from the EF-5 tornado were
immense. It was one of the deadliest single
tornadoes in U.S. history, responsible for
the deaths of 159 people. As it tore a
path right through the center of Joplin,
staying on the ground for nearly 14
miles, the tornado destroyed hundreds
of businesses, devastating approximately
30% of the town.

According to the Joplin Chamber of
Commerce, more than 18,000 people
were immediately displaced from their
homes, and 5,000 employees lost their
jobs because of the disaster. By July
of this year, 1,200 disaster-related
unemployment claims had been filed. Of
the approximately 2,200 businesses in
Joplin, 500 were destroyed in the tornado.
Many of the destroyed businesses
have already reopened, and other
businesses that sustained minimal or no
damage continued to operate all along.
These businesses have been in increased
demand from first responders, volunteers,
government contractors, insurance agents
and other visitors.

According to Tuttle, only one 33-room
hotel, located next to the devastated
St. John’s Regional Hospital, was
demolished by the tornado. Joplin’s
major hotels, including La Quinta Inn,
the Holiday Inn, and Residence Inn are
all operating, as are other smaller venues
accommodating 10 to 200. The La Quinta
Inn and the Holiday Inn Joplin both
have approximately 10,000 square feet
of meeting space, and the Holiday Inn
Joplin has an adjacent convention center
with a 35,000-square-foot ballroom.

Because of the influx of groups and
agencies into Joplin, hotel rooms will be
hard to come by in the near future. “Right
now through October at least, capacity
is 100%, with displaced families and
insurance, government and contractors
taking the rest. The neighboring
communities of Carthage and Neosho,
Mo. and Miami, Okla., have some
availability,” Tuttle said.

No plans have been made yet for
new facilities that would accommodate
the increased number of visitors, said
Tuttle. “This is still being worked out
and handled through AmeriCorps and
the City [jointly],” he said. “This answer
is a moving target—it changes daily.
Check before you come and bring a
sleeping bag just in case.”

Denise DuBois, general manager of
the 96-room Hilton Garden Inn, said
the hotel has been filled to 95-100%
capacity since tornado hit. In addition
to the hotel’s usual Monday through
Friday bookings, its rooms have been
filled most weekends. Requests for its
meeting room, which accommodates
80 people, have also been tied to the
disaster. Insurance companies and a
debris removal company, which needed
a space to meet and work, have used the
meeting space, she said. Groups who
lost event reservations, such as rehearsal
dinners and receptions, have also used
the meeting room.

“We’re not staffed like a full-service
hotel, and with the long-term increased
occupancy that we’ve had, and existing
staff, we’ve actually found it very difficult
to manage a lot of meetings in our space.
Simpler corporate meetings, we’ve been
able to do,” she said.

Two of the largest hotels in Joplin
are John Q. Hammons properties. The
114-suite Residence Inn and the 262-room
Holiday Inn Joplin Convention Center
and Spa have acted as hubs for displaced
families and teams of first responders.

“The extensive meeting space
associated with John Q. Hammons
Hotels & Resorts’ two Joplin properties
is being used by companies to assist
with training, evaluation and operations
meetings,” said Todd Loudis, director
of sales for the Holiday Inn Joplin. “A
‘ReBuilding Joplin’ fair was held at the
Holiday Inn Joplin Convention Center
and Spa, along with an employment fair
held by the state of Missouri. Mental
health facilities in the area have been
hosting grief counseling sessions on the
property to deal with the extensive loss
experienced in the city.”

The hotel served displaced residents
and disaster teams in numerous other
ways too, including accommodating
individual businesses in the hotel’s
meeting areas. Randal and Shelly Kraft,
owners of Kraft Insurance Services, for
instance, had a unique challenge when
they were unable to work in their office
building because of the disaster. Their
building, located near the St. John’s
Regional Hospital, remained standing
after the tornado, but sustained
$100,000 in damage. As a temporary
solution, the Krafts moved their entire
business operation to the Holiday Inn
meeting room.

For the approximately 30 days the
Krafts worked from the Holiday Inn.
The hotel provided them with a space
for their 15 employees and made special
arrangements, including providing them
with extra phone lines to handle the
hundreds of calls about claims that their
insurance business was receiving.

“We went from a 6,500-square-foot
space to a 25’ x 25’ room at the Holiday
Inn,” said Shelly Kraft. “We had a lot of
clients coming in all the time. It was not
the optimal situation, but the hotel was
absolutely responsive to our needs.”

City-wide, individuals and businesses
are receiving assistance that is helping
in the recovery of businesses and homes.
According to U.S. Small Business
Administration Office of Disaster
Assistance data, as of July 18, 2011,
the SBA approved over $30.6 million
statewide in disaster loans for residents
and businesses in disaster-declared
counties throughout Missouri ($24.3
million for residential and personal
property losses and $6.3 million for
business losses.) Of these, $23.4 million
went toward disaster loans in the Joplin
area, of which $17.9 million helped
to pay for residential and personal
property losses and $5.5 million helped
to pay business losses.

The Joplin Chamber of Commerce
has helped to connect individuals
and businesses with these resources.
Almost immediately after the storm,
the Chamber partnered with the Small
Business Administration (SBA) and
the Small Business and Technology
Development Center at Missouri
Southern State University to create the
SBA Business Recovery Center (BRC).
The center is helping residents and
businesses file with the SBA.

The Chamber and its partners have
also been instrumental in identifying
businesses at the stage in which they
need help, and guiding them toward
resources such as counseling, legal
advice and temporary employment.
These resources are crucial, especially
since many residents have been affected
in multiple ways.

“A lot of those who have been devastated
don’t know where to turn. Not only have
they lost their places of business, but
they’ve lost homes,” said Ginger LaMar,
business services director of the Joplin
Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber’s coordination with
other organizations has been immediate,
and may serve as an example for future
recovery efforts. “When you have the
right companies on board, you just move
to action,” said LaMar. She has heard
from people who have gone through
other disasters and are amazed at what
they’ve seen happening in Joplin. “They
are surprised at how fast the recovery
has been,” she said. “The spirit of the
community is doing well.” MM&E

(Heather McNeill is a contributor from
Kansas City, Mo.)

Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau
602 S. Main St.
Joplin, MO 64801
Phone: (417) 625-4789
Toll-Free: (800) 657-2534


Since the May 22 tornado, Joplin has received an outpouring
of support locally, regionally, and nationally in many forms such
as donations, volunteering, and care packages. The meeting
and event and hospitality industries have also played a part in
bringing support to Joplin.

Hospitality groups have come together to support their own
employees in a time of need. For example, the Springfield-based
John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts, which owns two major
hotels in the city — a Residence Inn and Holiday Inn — set up a
relief fund for Joplin staff and their families who were affected by
the tornado. In the company-wide initiative, employees can elect
to donate a portion of their paychecks to support the effort.

Within Joplin, festivals and events are continuing as a way to
bring families closer in a difficult time and honor the community
and those who were lost in the tornado. The community festival
Boomtown Days, put on by the Chamber of Commerce, Joplin
CVB and other community partners, will celebrate its 10th
anniversary this year. For this festival, which was postponed to
August 25-27 because of the disaster, the hopeful tag phrase,
“We’re still boomin’” was adopted. As a symbol of support for
Joplin, glow-in-the-dark bracelets were designed for the event.
The community festival includes a chili cookout, fireworks, a
dog show, a half marathon, a car/truck/motorcycle show, and
musical acts including the Elders and Blues Traveler. See http://
boomtowndays.com for more information.

Groups have also promised future meetings and events, which will
serve to stimulate the local economy, bringing support to Joplin
businesses, including hotels, food and beverage establishments,
catering services and supply rental companies. This fall, for
example, Missouri State University and the University of Missouri
will play exhibition basketball games against the local university
in Joplin, Missouri Southern State University. The games will be
played on the campus of Missouri Southern and proceeds will go
to the university’s Tornado Emergency Fund. “Events like these
contribute to the feeling of solidarity in Joplin,” said Todd Loudis
of the Holiday Inn. “There is a distinctive sense of community,
reinforcing that Joplin’s residents are not alone or forgotten.”

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