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Economy & Business

New group hopes to raise $10 million to attract new business to Joplin

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 20, 2011 - The tornado that destroyed much of Joplin last month came almost exactly 115 years after a similarly deadly storm that not only killed 255 people in the St. Louis area but flattened the feed mill business of a young entrepreneur named William H. Danforth.

But his dream didn't stay down for long. A banker named Walker Hill, who believed in what Danforth was trying to build, helped him get back onto his feet with a loan of $25,000. On Monday, Danforth's grandson, former Sen. John C. Danforth, began an effort to return the favor.

He was among organizers who announced the establishment of Joplin Tomorrow, a new non-profit, tax-exempt entity founded to attract new businesses to the southwest Missouri city and help it rebound from the May 22 tornado. It hopes to raise as much as $10 million to provide low- or no-interest loans to new firms that will locate in the area.

Its slogan: You can help put Joplin back in business.

The first gifts to the organization are $25,000 from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce -- and $500,000 from the Danforth Foundation, the final funds given out by the foundation before it shut down as planned on May 31.

Announcing the gift and the establishment of Joplin Tomorrow, John Danforth noted that government aid will be coming into Joplin to help existing businesses that want to rebuild after the storm, which wiped out about 20 percent of the community and damaged much more.

But Joplin Tomorrow's goal is different, he said. It will concentrate on attracting the new businesses that the city will need to thrive, as well as helping current firms that want to expand. He compared it to the rebuilding effort that has taken root following Hurricane Katrina.

"Joplin Tomorrow will seek not only to restore many of the businesses that were destroyed," Danforth said, "but also to attract new ones -- and thereby help the city rise to a new level of industrial and commercial prosperity. Just as New Orleans is now beginning to thrive, so can Joplin. Joplin Tomorrow is a critical tool for securing that future."

He noted that besides money coming from the Small Business Administration to help existing businesses rebuild, other agencies, both public and private, are channeling aid to Joplin, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, United Way, American Red Cross, Salvation Army and others. An estimated 450 businesses, employing 10 times that many people, were wiped out by the storm. The latest death toll is 154.

Joplin Tomorrow will complement those revival efforts, Danforth said, by concentrating on money for the private sector and letting business and civic leaders in Joplin play a major role in plotting the community's rebirth. Five residents from the private sector will administer its operations, deciding which applicants should receive aid, how much and under what terms.

Commenting on the effort, Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said:

"We want to show the Joplin business community that the business community of the entire state stands behind it."

Also joining in the announcement was Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who said:

"I applaud Senator Danforth's efforts to help rebuild Joplin in the aftermath of this disaster. Joplin Tomorrow represents what Missourians do so well: helping one another in times of need.

"I've said many times that in Joplin, neighbors were each other's first responders, and they will be the last responders too. Southwest Missourians are resilient, and I'm confident Joplin Tomorrow will help restore the business community and attract new private sector job creators as we work to rebuild."

Noting that the Danforth Foundation gift came on May 27 -- the same day in 1896 that the St. Louis storm struck -- the former senator noted that because a banker showed faith in his grandfather, he was able to rebuild and establish the corporation that became Ralston Purina Co. Stock from the company was used to establish the Danforth Foundation in 1927.

"I want to help do for Joplin what that banker did for my grandfather," Danforth said.

The Joplin Tomorrow announcement was just one of the continuing efforts to help the stricken city announced on Monday.

Legislative help to deal with future emergencies like the Joplin tornado will be the subject of hearings of the Interim Committee on Disaster Recovery, according to Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard. The hearings will be held later this month in Sedalia, Joplin and Sikeston.

By July 31, the committee will submit a report on how the state can better aid in the immediate recovery process. By the end of the year, it will submit a separate report to detail ways the state can aid in the rebuilding process and examine setting up a long-term infrastructure to be better prepared for future natural disasters, Schoeller said.

"It is important that we visit the locations affected by the disasters and hear from the people and community leaders about issues they have faced in the process of rebuilding," he said. "This is about ensuring we have a sensible plan in place to help and not hinder affected communities as we work to identify the short and long term needs for our disaster stricken areas across the state."

Editor's note: The St. Louis Beacon received funding from the Danforth Foundation.

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