MACC Assists Joplin Business Owners
Millions have watched the devastation following the May 22 tornado in Joplin. Thousands have caravanned to southern Missouri to sift through piles of debris that represented the lives and businesses of Joplin residents. Still others have come to help rebuild the homes, stores, schools and offices that literally no longer exist. Some have traveled to offer more specialized aid.
On August 1, Danny Lobina, the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) Director at Moberly Area Community College’s Entrepreneurship and Business Development Center (EBDC) traveled with EBDC Business and Industry Specialist Kimberly Erwin to Joplin to counsel Joplin business owners on what to do to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. They saw first-hand the massive devastation and destruction while they toured Joplin’s business and residential areas. The path of the tornado was one mile wide and six miles long and destroyed over 8,000 businesses and homes.
“It was a life-changing experience viewing the breadth of the destruction first-hand and realizing that every business in its path was altered in some way, whether physically or economically,” explained Lobina.
“Looking out over the vast devastation that was once a thriving part of Joplin was surreal and eerie,” said Erwin.
Lobina and Erwin set up shop in the Joplin Chamber of Commerce Joseph Newman Innovation Center where the Small Business Association (SBA) Business Recovery Center is housed. Over the course of three days, they counseled eight business clients who lost everything in the tornado. They contacted and scheduled future appointments for over 30 individuals that lost their businesses. They followed up with others who wanted to propose a new business idea they had brainstormed in the rush to rebuild Joplin. They passed on all of the information that they learned from each client and assured them that a local SBTDC counselor would be contacting them to make sure their needs were met. Tragically, some of the clients did not have their businesses insured so they literally lost everything.
One such client was the owner of Take Away Café. He sat across the plastic folding table from Lobina and Erwin explaining his dilemma. The insurance on his small restaurant was too expensive to maintain and so he’d dropped it. His restaurant was leveled and the SBA had just turned him down for their Business Recovery Loan. They offered all of the advice they could and walked him through applying for the Department of Economic Development’s Disaster Relief Loan.
“It’s difficult to give people advice on how to rebuild their businesses when I know that they have lost everything including all of their assets. Many of the people we counseled did not have proper business insurance making it nearly impossible for them to rebuild or qualify for a disaster relief loan,” said Lobina.
They counseled an owner of a digital media company that did not have physical damage, but lost 90% of his sales volume due to the tornado devastating the market. They counseled an entrepreneur that wanted to start a solar panel manufacturing and sales business in the midst of the destruction. And they were sometimes painfully honest with clients who had no way of rebuilding their former life. In midst of it all, they were surprised at the level of care and concern these Joplin folks had for their neighbors.
“Watching an individual, who has lost his sole income in a massive disaster, recall the horrendous event and think only of the individuals and families that were effected, left me with a feeling of true astonishment and wonder at how we can be so selfless when there is no promise that tomorrow will bring sunny weather,” recalled Erwin.
One of their clients took them on a tour of the tornado’s path. He described what businesses were missing on the almost desert wasteland expanse they passed. Erwin said many places looked like a third world country. They heard story after story during their visit about the tragedies of people just like themselves and the heroic efforts of the perfect strangers who are making life bearable for the thousands of still displaced residents.
“I wish the citizens of Joplin all the best and hope that their recovery effort continues to progress. I will never forget the experience of helping those clients who were in desperate need of sound business advice. It was an honor to lend them a helping hand,” said Lobina.
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