It’s Morning Edition on KRPS; I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. Nearly a decade ago, a storm destroyed one third of the city of Joplin. Last year, like many across the US, Joplin city officials and business leaders were worried about how the pandemic would affect the local economy having already recovered and rebuilt from the storm. Scars still persist in the city that is experiencing a renewal that likely no one expected.
“We tightened our belt in May to prepare for the financial haircut that we might receive in fighting Covid.” Joplin Mayor Ryan Stanely speaking on how the city was preparing last year to lose tax revenue as the implications of the coronavirus pandemic were still unwinding. But, to their surprise, the city actually saw an increase in the amount of taxes collected in 2020, as residents either chose to stay home or were forced to. “We cut a million dollars out of our budget proactively to prepare. And we were bracing ourselves for the worst. And I’m beyond happy and somewhat surprised that our sales tax numbers continue to grow through Covid, almost every month, we’ve been up a percent over what we were the year before.”
Stanley was concerned about the city not having an internet use tax with more people shopping online. Just blocks away from City Hall there are two major construction projects underway that will transform downtown Joplin for decades to come. A new Jasper county courthouse, and the Cornell Complex.
Connect2Culture has raised nearly $20-million dollars to build the new indoor and outdoor performing arts center that is slated to be finished in the fall of next year. But downtown Joplin isn’t the only area of the city that is seeing growth. A development named the 32nd Street place, including a new Menards home improvement warehouse is being constructed in the southeast part of the city. President of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Toby Teeter. “This 32nd street place, this development, but speaking about the Menards. Menards itself actually has data, very interesting data talking about how much business from the Joplin region actually goes to other Menards. Specifically, the Menards in Springfield.”
Last year the Joplin City Council voted in favor of a $188 million Menards project that included the 32nd Street TIF that’s already in effect in the area around the location. It’s a 1% additional sales tax that will help pay for city improvements. Teeter says that Joplin is finally able to compete with larger areas. “Markets in Northwest Arkansas or Springfield, even those markets, they don’t’ have $200 million retail developments in 2021, in 2020. This is a very big deal for any market to have something of this scale.”
This promising time though isn’t without challenges. Joplin’s Northpark Mall has recently lost two anchor stores, Macy’s and Sears. And the city’s four year state university, Missouri Southern experienced an enrollment drop of 10% last fall. Over twice the national average for the same period.
With Mendard’s slated to be open in the fall of 2022, it isn’t the only project that the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce has been successful in bringing to the area. Last month, Iowa based Casey’s General Store opened their 3rd distribution center in Joplin. A $200 million warehouse, employing 125 workers that can serve up to 600 stores.
The JACC has been active in luring larger corporations to the area. Tweeting to General Motors in March, a plan worth over $200 million dollars of incentives to build the company’s new battery plant in Joplin. The plan highlighted an over 1,000 acre site, the availability of the nearby workforce and median hourly wage for existing local employees. GM eventually chose to build the new plant near their existing manufacturing facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
Joplin City Manager, Nick Edwards sees a bright future, buoyed by the 32nd Street development. “Anytime a community can attract investment especially when we start talking around the $100 million dollars worth of investment, that’s significant.” It’s significant Nick says because it makes other companies that are considering opening a business or relocating to Southwest Missouri a more competitive choice. Nick 2 “The development community talks. This development will spur additional development. And maybe we can start to get some momentum.”
Momentum the city has been building for the last ten years. For KRPS, I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro in Webb City