We probably all remember the images of Joplin after one of the most destructive tornadoes in U.S. history carved a mile-wide scar through Joplin in 2011. It was amazing devastation that killed killed 161 people. Many wondered how it would recover. But less than five years later, Joplin’s population has never been higher and major employers have moved into town. About 250 new businesses have opened, and most of the roughly 500 damaged businesses have rebuilt. Impressive.
Beyond the death toll, the massive May 22, 2011, tornado — at the top of the rating scale where winds top out above 200 mph — injured hundreds more and flattened virtually everything in its path. About 7,500 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Joplin’s population of about 50,000 people dropped by 1.3 percent within a year of the tornado. Many expected that it would continue to slide; U.S. Census Bureau figures from May showed the city’s population has risen to 51,316. Impressive.
Recovery kicked in almost immediately, with help coming from state and federal government, neighboring towns, churches, volunteer groups and countless strangers.
Businesses have taken root in Joplin, however, with major employers launching rebuilds or committing to them. Others lacking Joplin ties were so taken by the local resolve that they opened plants: Heartland Pet Foods Manufacturing, for example, built a $90 million, 150-job factory that opened last year.
Many smaller businesses also have moved in, and about 90 percent of tornado-damaged businesses have opened again.