By Susan Redden
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Former U.S. senator and diplomat John Danforth on Monday unveiled an effort to raise $10 million for a fund to restore and expand Joplin’s business community, which was devastated by the May 22 tornado.
Fundraising will come through the newly created Joplin Tomorrow, with early contributions to include a $500,000 grant, which will mark the final one from the Danforth Foundation. The effort is an outgrowth of a private visit Danforth made to Joplin on June 1, he said at a news conference Monday at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I wanted to do something, so I came here to see how I could help,” he said.
After meetings with federal, state and local government officials and local business people, Danforth offered to raise funds for an organization that will provide loans to businesses as they rebuild and expand. The program and loans will be overseen by a local board, and will fund a strategic plan for the business community “to create a future that is even more promising than before,” he said.
$1 MILLION ALREADY
The fund already has more than $1 million after the Danforth contribution was matched immediately by local donors: the Ray and Myrl Grace Trust, Southwest Missouri Bank, Ed and Alison Hershewe, Jerry and Nancy Perry, Rudolph and Dorothy Farber, and Jim Bracht.
The fund is to go beyond the help available from insurance companies, the Small Business Administration and other groups to help restore the more than 400 businesses that were damaged or destroyed in the tornado. The goal, said Dwight Douglas, chairman of the five-member volunteer board, is “to provide low-interest or no-interest loans to businesses that rebuild or expand in Joplin or to relocate in Joplin.”
The program also will finance a strategic plan to build the reconstruction effort, and it will give Joplin civic and business leaders a stronger voice in rebuilding the community, Douglas said.
Danforth was introduced at the news conference by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who said it was fitting, after the longtime senator’s history of public service, “that the last gift of the Danforth Foundation already has been matched by local contributions.”
Blunt also promised to press for a speedy approval of the organization’s federal tax-exempt status, and he said he and others in the Missouri delegation continue to call for 100 percent federal funding to cover public costs related to the storm.
Blunt said that in Joplin, he met with volunteers from across the U.S., including those from Home Depot headquarters in Atlanta. The volunteers came to Joplin for a day of work in conjunction with the opening of a new, temporary Home Depot store to replace the one demolished by the tornado.
The store will rebuild at its former location near 20th Street and Range Line Road, though a date for starting construction has not been determined, said Craig Fishel, director of media relations for the company.
He said the plan announced by Joplin Tomorrow “will be good for the area.”
“Commitments like that are beneficial, especially when recovery will take years,” he said.
Danforth stressed his role as “not leading — I just want to help.”
“I heard about the needs from government people, and even more powerfully from business and civic leaders who are focused on the short term and also on what the situation will be in two, five and 10 years,” he said. “People here are looking to the future and to make Joplin stronger and better.”
A $25,000 donation to the fund has been made by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Daniel Mehan, chamber executive, was on hand Monday for what he said was his first trip to Joplin since the tornado.
“The magnitude of it is just profound,” he said. “These homes and businesses weren’t just damaged — they were obliterated. But I’ve been impressed by the zeal of people here to look to the future and grow out of it.”
Regarding the no-interest and low-interest loans, Douglas said the businesses do not necessarily have to be tornado-affected, and the buildings do not have to be in the storm footprint.
“What we’re looking for is growth, and the loan application will have to be based on a good business plan,” he said.
Loan applications will be available at the Joplin chamber. The fund will be overseen by a five-member board of directors. In addition to Douglas, who is general counsel for Freeman Health System, members are Mike Palmer, vice president for transmission services with Empire District Electric Co., vice chairman; Glenn Brown, retired chief executive of Contract Freighters Inc., now Con-way Truckload, secretary; Mike Pence, retired owner of Electric Motor Supply; and J.D. Seller, former chief financial officer of EaglePicher Technologies. Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin chamber, will serve as assistant secretary.
Douglas said legal work to establish the fund and to set up the website joplintomorrow.org was done by the St. Louis law firm of Bryan Cave, where Danforth is a partner. Donations to the fund may be made online or at Joplin Tomorrow, in care of Commerce Bank, P.O. Box 1018, Columbia, MO 65205.
ELECTED AS MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL in 1968, John Danforth held that office until he won a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1976. He was re-elected in 1982 and 1988, becoming the first Republican in Missouri to be elected to the Senate three times. He served as President George H.W. Bush’s representative to the United Nations and as special envoy for peace to Sudan. He is ordained in the Episcopal Church.