By Wally Kennedy
An upbeat mood about the future of Joplin could be felt Tuesday afternoon at the opening of this year’s Business Expo at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, 3615 S. Range Line Road.
More than 200 vendors, including a large number of banks, builders and medical service providers, were attracting thousands of visitors from Joplin’s business community on Tuesday.
The 21st annual expo will be open to the general public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. The cost is $5 per person; there is no charge for children 5 and younger.
David Drake, with Red Wing Shoes in the Southside Shopping Center, had a booth at last year’s expo.
“The difference between this year and last year is that people are more confident about the future of Joplin,” he said. “We’re past the tornado now. There’s this sense that better times are ahead.”
Drake said part of the upbeat mood at this year’s expo is “the resolve that the people of Joplin have shown. It’s amazing what we have done on our own.”
Red Wing Shoes relocated to Southside when its storefront in the Bel-Aire Shopping Center was blown away. The new location has been remodeled, and business this past year has been steady.
“We’re selling a lot of work boots,” Drake said.
Mike Wiggins, owner of the Granny Shaffer’s restaurants in Joplin, said: “Business has been good for us this past year. We have had a great recovery. There is this sense that things are getting better.
“Now, if Congress will just do something — at least get out of our way — we will be able to take care of business.”
This year’s expo, sponsored by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, is showcasing the services provided by several companies that specialize in health and dental services, including home health care. A person with an elderly parent in need of care in the home can, by attending the expo, get a quick introduction to most of the providers operating in the Joplin market.
Mica Burnett, with Integrity Home Care, said: “We’re expanding and offering new services in addition to home health. We have physical therapy, music therapy and pet therapy, and we now offer hospice.
“Instead of taking someone for outpatient therapy, we can do all of the things that need to be done in the home. It’s important to remember that the patient has the right to choose the company that is best for what they need.”
Also at the expo are Caring Transitions, which provides senior moving, downsizing and estate sales, and Adelmo Family Care, which helps seniors stay in their own homes. Access Family Care, Hospice Compassus and Avalon Hospice also are among those represented at the expo.
Companies that specialize in storm shelters also have booths at the expo. Twister Safe, which offers residential and commercial safe rooms, has seen its business level off this past year.
“We’ve built several hundred — maybe as many as 1,000 — safe rooms in the last year,” said Jennifer McKeough, with Twister Safe. “It’s plateaued now because the insurance money has just about been spent, but we’re still building a lot of them.”
Before the Joplin tornado, McKeough said, the company went to trade shows to market its products.
“They laughed at us,” she said. “They said our safe rooms would never stand up in a tornado. We had eight residential safe rooms in the path of the EF-5 tornado. They held up eight times.”
New to this year’s expo is a booth by the Environmental Task Force of Jasper and Newton Counties.
“Part of our mission is to educate the public about local environmental issues,” said Bob Kulp, head of the Newton County Health Department. “There are water quality and air quality issues that affect all of us. People need to understand how these issues could impact us in the future if we don’t do something about them now.”
Also new this year is the Freedom of Flight Museum that local supporters are trying to develop at the Joplin Regional Airport. Information about the museum can be viewed at the airport’s booth.
Darryl Coit, with the museum project, said: “We want to build a regional facility because we have a lot of local aviation history that people do not know about. We’re operating a virtual museum right now at freedomofflightmuseum.org.”
The museum wants to provide educational resources for area youths to show them how math and science can be connected to hands-on aviation.
THIS YEAR’S EXPO has a musical theme. Don’t be surprised if you encounter someone dressed like Elvis Presley. If Elvis has left the building, those attending the expo can pose next to a life-size rendition of Elvis at a booth manned by The Touch Up Shop, a collision-repair business in Joplin.