Joplin Chamber: 4,000 jobs affected by tornado

By ANDRA BRYAN STEFANONI

The Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Peggy Baker sifted through what remained of her family’s business Thursday, searching for anything that could be salvaged.

Baker stood out from the debris pile in a fuchsia jacket, searching for her beauty operator’s license.

“My husband and I built Baker Towing right over there in 1975, and my beauty shop was right here,” she said, gesturing to a pile of twisted metal.

“He’s been gone for 7 1?2 years, but I’ve been carrying on the business.”

Baker Towing employed the couple’s three children, Steve, Jerry and Cindy, as well as two drivers.

“We are going to try to rebuild all five of our bays,” Peggy Baker said. “The insurance person has been by already and got it figured for us — we’re going to try for the same location.”

Hers was a scenario replayed throughout Joplin this week.

Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday that the business community suffered “a tremendous blow” from Sunday’s catastrophic tornado.

Officials estimated that 300 businesses have been lost, ranging from big-box stores and fast-food franchises on Range Line Road to small mom and pop stores. At least 4,000 employees have been affected by the tornado, O’Brian said, although that count could go up. St. John’s Regional Medical Center alone employed 2,000 people.

“That’s the bad news,” said O’Brian. “The good news is the reports of Joplin’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

“We have 2,000 businesses in our community, and 50,000 people. The important thing for us to remember is we have many resources left.”

Home Depot, St. John’s and Wal-Mart — some of the largest among the affected employers — will rebuild.

Dillons, which also was destroyed, has not made a commitment.

“There has been no decision made at this time. Our main priority has been caring for our associates and caring for our community,” Sheila Lowrie, Dillons spokeswoman, said Thursday.

She said the company set up a mobile resource center at Missouri Southern State University staffed with teams from human resources, counselors from Magellan Health Services and Joplin store management. They have encouraged employees to meet one on one to discuss possible employment within the company. The nearest Dillons stores are in Springfield and Pittsburg, Kan.

For now, the 90 people who worked at Dillons will be paid for the last week they worked and given two weeks of “pay in lieu of work.”

If they are able to find work within the Kroger company, their insurance will continue; if not, their insurance will stop at the end of June.

Home Depot officials could not be reached for comment to discuss the status of employees until the store is rebuilt. Mike Moore, spokesman for Wal-Mart, said Joplin employees can be transferred to other stores in the region. Each of those stores employs hundreds, but no specific work force figures were available Thursday.

The fate of the 2,000 people at St. John’s is secure, according to spokeswoman Miranda Lewis.

She said the hospital’s top executives are committed to making sure hospital workers do not lose their jobs.

“We don’t know exactly what that will look like,” she said. “They may go to a different location.”

Others may find themselves shuttled into different departments based on need.

“The intent is that nobody is going to lose their jobs,” Lewis said.

The fate of many employees at smaller businesses is less clear. Chamber officials said they aren’t sure how many plan to rebuild.

Kyle Garvin, who with his wife has owned Stowaway Storage and Space Center for 10 years, said Thursday the couple “definitely have an interest in rebuilding.”

“We’ll hopefully be in business by next year,” he said. “I haven’t done anything about going to the small-business center yet because honestly we’ve just been too busy here. I’m just now getting with the insurance people. But they do say the insurance will cover our monthly salary.”

For those business owners or displaced employees who need assistance, the new Business Recovery Center can help, O’Brian said. It opened Thursday.

The center is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Missouri Southern’s Small Business and Technology Development Center, and the chamber. It is specifically designed to provide financial services such as low-interest SBA loans to employers.

“This center will provide a single, one-stop location for business owners to access a variety of specialized help,” said the SBA’s new regional administrator, Pat Brown-Dixon, who was in Joplin on Thursday.

The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays; and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. It is located in the Joseph Newman Innovation Center, next to the chamber at 320 E. Fourth St.

“You don’t need to wait on your insurance to settle or a contractor’s estimate before seeking SBA financial assistance,” Brown-Dixon said.

Employees also can seek help at the center. The SBA can lend them $200,000 for homes and $40,000 for personal property, including vehicles.

Officials said the filing deadline for property damage assistance would be July 8, with Feb. 9, 2012, the deadline for economic injury applications.

O’Brian encouraged those seeking assistance to be mindful of the six-week window.

“Even if you don’t think you need assistance at this point, you might realize three months down the road you could have used support,” he said.

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Information from: The Joplin Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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