There was no shortage of interesting topics during Friday's economic growth tour.
Tourgoers learned about a warehouse for a convenience store chain, a university's dental school, a travel plaza restaurant's mango chicken, a software development company's new office in downtown Joplin and a food manufacturer's reliance on Joplin's water supply.
They also learned that a plot of land is being developed by an ammunition company that could create 100 jobs and that a package distribution company with 100 jobs also is eyeing Joplin.
On the fun side, a local market plans to show live alpacas on Halloween.
One thing that binds all those things together is positivity, said Laura Kessler, program director for the Missouri Career Center.
"There have been a lot of negative outlooks because of the pandemic," said Kessler. "This was a good message of all the positivity and growth, for me."
Friday's economic growth tour, conducted annually by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and MOKAN Partnership, featured stories of the region's immediate past and future. With more than a dozen stops, organizers told stories about businesses adapting and thriving through the coronavirus pandemic, as well as their plans for growth over the next few months.
"Missouri has been one of the most resilient states through the pandemic," said Toby Teeter, chamber president. "And the Joplin area has led the state."
The tour featured stops in downtown Joplin, including Empire Market, 931 E. Fourth St., and Midwestern Interactive, 713 S. Main St.
Ivy Hagedorn, market coordinator, talked about how a curbside delivery program has remained popular enough to keep running even though the market has returned to in-person operations. She also said that a vendor is promising live alpacas at the market on Halloween.
Matt Johnson, owner of Midwestern Interactive, highlighted how his company is providing software and app-development services to clients across the world from its newly remodeled office in downtown Joplin.
A stop at the Joplin campus of Kansas City University featured updates about how students are instructed in the midst of the pandemic and how that has changed plans for an incoming dental school. Plans call for the College of Dental Medicine to open in 2022 with a class of 80 students.
A trip to Jasper Products covered how the food manufacturer has endured a roller coaster of ups and downs over the past few months. The company makes foods and beverages for nationwide grocery stores, said Ken Haubein, president of the company.
"COVID at first gave us a boost, then a drop," Haubein said. "It disrupted normal buying patterns, as people went from hoarding to not buying anything. It was a confusing six months."
The company is still growing, however, with new warehouses under construction in the Crossroads Industrial Park. The manufacturer also is a client of Don's Cold Storage, another stop on the tour that is in the process of expanding space and hiring more employees.
Teeter said Jasper Products uses almost a quarter of Joplin's water supply to make its products. Haubein said that production agreements prohibit identifying the brands.
"These are major brands," Teeter said. "And they all have Shoal Creek as an ingredient."
The tour included a few unnamed developments, including the effort to attract a 42,000-square-foot package distributor, with the potential to employ about 100. Another effort features an ammunition company seeking to build a 100,000-square-foot plant that would employ another 100 people.
The number of potential new jobs stood out to Christina Williams, a member of the Joplin City Council. She said she hopes the council targets housing availability in the future, as well as other quality-of-life aspects that draw people to the area.
"We've never had a job shortage here," Williams said. "We have had a workforce shortage. Anything we can do for the attraction and retention of people will be important."
The tour's news of all the incoming jobs told Sherri Rhuems, executive director of the Missouri Career Center, that she and her staff would be busy in the future.
The center helps place job seekers with available opportunities and also helps coordinate training opportunities, she said.
"I love to hear about expansion and bringing that information back to job seekers," Rhuems said.
Education officials also took note. Elsie Morris, special services coordinator at Franklin Tech Center, was impressed to learn about Rasoi, an Indian restaurant operating out of the Big Apple Travel Center at Prigmor Avenue and Interstate 44. She said she hopes to connect the restaurant's chefs with the center's culinary arts program.
But the biggest thing that she saw is the need for a diesel-mechanic program.
"When we see how many trucks we have and how many more will be here, I know it's a dire need," Morris said. "This tour shores that up in my mind."