Extensive tornado damage to Jefferson City businesses has inspired a service learning project for a group of students from the University of Missouri.
Through a partnership with the University of Missouri Cole County Extension, seven students from the Trulaske College of Business at MU have been assessing businesses that were effected by the May 22 tornado to study how businesses recover and what they can do to better prepare for future disasters.
Lynda Zimmerman, county engagement specialist at the Cole County Extension, is supervising the group and was the one who originally pitched the idea.
As part of their studies, business students participate in a program called Professional EDGE, which is focused on providing them with real-world experiences. One of their classes is a service learning project. When the school was looking for ideas for the class, Zimmerman submitted hers.
"With the recent tornado here, and my involvement with the Long Term Recovery Committee, I knew there was an issue with businesses," she said.
The project involves assessing businesses that were impacted in some way by the tornado and find out what has gone well for them, what hasn't gone well, what sort of barriers they had and what they might tell other businesses to be better prepared, among other things.
Students meet with and interview business owners about their experiences. On Friday, two of the students met with Missy Creed, co-owner of Campus Coworking Space, at the business' new space at 609 E. High St. Previously located at 619 E. Capitol Ave., the business suffered extensive storm damage and had to relocate.
Cole Stamper and Jacob Coogan met with Creed to discuss her experiences post-tornado and how her business has recovered.
Campus Coworking Space is one of about 25 Jefferson City businesses the group have spoken to. Others include Avenue HQ, Burger King, Riley Automotive, and Joy and Gladness Children's Academy.
Zimmerman said the hope is to collect enough information from the businesses to create a report of findings and recommendations of what other businesses can do to better prepare for natural disasters.
"What we've found is there's really a lack of information about businesses compared to individuals in residences that have been impacted, where there's a lot of information gathered through FEMA, local emergency management and so on," Zimmerman said.
The group hopes to provide that information.
So far, they have noticed some trends in what they are hearing from business owners.
Stamper, a senior finance major, said insurance has been a big topic, especially making sure there is more to a disaster plan than just insurance.
"Even if you have insurance, have another plan to help yourself get back, because it's going to take awhile for insurance most of the time," Stamper said.
Zimmerman said the group has reported to her a trend of smaller businesses either not fully understanding their insurance coverage or not having the full coverage they might have needed, like loss of income coverage.
Overall, the group has noticed small businesses tend to be less prepared than corporate-backed chains.
"One thing they've noticed is, especially the smaller the business it is, they're less likely to have a disaster plan versus a larger business, particularly a nationally-based business," Zimmerman said. "When you don't have a plan in place, that's a limitation right there."
Through the interviews, the students have learned about more than just business. Zimmerman said being able to be in the business owners' spaces has been eye-opening for the students.
"It's been interesting learning about all the businesses, and it's also kind of sad, too — you get an insight of the troubles people have gone through in a disaster situation and trauma," said Coogan, a junior finance major. "It's tough imagining what these people went through, and you can only feel for them."
Stamper agreed hearing the personal stories makes the project more meaningful for the group. Having the chance to help those in need is part of what led the two, both from St. Louis, to choose the project. Zimmerman said none of the seven students are originally from the Mid-Missouri area.
"Seeing people in a time of need and what goes in to figuring out who needs to be helped — it's such a huge operation," Stamper said. "People don't just get back going on their own, it takes a lot of factors. I think, as business majors, it's kind of huge for us see what goes into the planning."
The goal of the project is to provide information that could be used to help businesses in the future. The importance of planning ahead is a big part of that, and the students hope they can make a difference.
"For future disasters that happen, if we can help and give some insight to help business be better prepared, that's a big thing that's important that's coming out of this," Coogan said.
The group started at the beginning of the semester and will wrap up and present their findings to Zimmerman and Jefferson City Major Carrie Tergin sometime in early December.