Joplin, Missouri: Big City Life in Small Town Joplin

29 Feb, 2008

By: Juli Anne Patty

It’s the endless American debate: big city or small town? Many people long for the ease and comfort of small town life, but business and career demand that they put down roots somewhere near the big city. Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? In Joplin, Missouri, the answer is yes.

Tucked into the southwest corner of Missouri— and just a few hours’ drive from St. Louis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Tulsa —Joplin offers more than just a great place to work. With a variety of cultural activities and shopping, a charming historic downtown, easy access to eight major lakes, and four mild seasons perfect for enjoying all these amenities, Joplin ensures that its visitors and residents have access to all of the aspects of the good life, all year round.

Big City by Day, Small Town by Night
Officially, Joplin is a community of about 46,000 people. With walkable neighborhoods, community schools and numerous parks, Joplin has the small town feel that so many Americans long for. And yet Joplin also has a daytime population of nearly 250,000 and a market population of nearly 500,000, meaning that Joplin residents can enjoy the comforts of a small town along with all of the amenities of big city living.

Among Joplin’s big city offerings are a major mall, the distinctive boutiques of downtown Joplin, Missouri’s only Audubon Wildlife Center, and a nearly $6 million recreational facility created specifically for Joplin’s teenagers. Joplin residents also enjoy above-average health and educational opportunities, with access to two major regional medical centers, Missouri Southern State University and numerous private and parochial schools.

Even better, Joplin’s low cost of living means that citizens can afford to take advantage of all these amenities.

The Price of the Good Life
Perhaps one of the reasons Joplin is able to maintain this cosmopolitan small town atmosphere is that the cost of living, and of doing business, in Joplin is highly competitive. The Council for Community and Economic Research (CCER) Cost of Living Index repeatedly places Joplin’s cost of living at nearly 12 percent below the national average. In fact, in the CCER’s third quarter index for 2007, Joplin ranked as the least expensive urban area in America.

That’s good news not just for residents. Joplin area businesses find that Joplin’s low cost of living also translates to lower operation costs and a rich employment pool. In Joplin, a competitive salary is much lower than in other metro areas, and Joplin’s low cost of living, along with its low taxes, attracts an ever-growing population of educated, talented citizens.

Pro-Business Means Pro-People
All of this ideal growth doesn’t happen without a plan, and Joplin leaders definitely have a strategy: what’s good for the people is good business. For more than 20 years, the Joplin City Council and the county government have engineered Joplin’s growth with a pro-business approach.

“Joplin also offers a cooperative community ready to join in partnership for mutual growth,” says Rob O’Brian, president, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. “Our commitment to supporting business success, along with low taxes and a rapidly growing population, have helped Joplin achieve unprecedented retail and restaurant growth in the past five years.”

The city of Joplin supports this growth through an Enterprise Zone that allows for 100 percent abatement on new construction. It also grants extensive tax credits for new employment. The City also has revenue bond capacity and often makes grants to projects fitting specific targeted business sectors.

And the city isn’t in it alone. The state of Missouri also offers a number of incentives that are appealing to new employers coming into the area, including Missouri’s Quality Jobs Act which was, in large part, written by Joplin’s state legislators and the Joplin Chamber.

Hometown Business Leaders
Several major companies call Joplin home, including a number of homegrown businesses that have emerged as international successes. In 2007, Joplin’s largest new project was AT&T’s new business customer care center. The 80,000-square-foot facility, located on Interstate 44, will employ almost 700 people by mid-2008.

EaglePicher Technologies, LLC is one of Joplin’s native businesses, arising more than 150 years ago from Joplin’s mining industry. Today, EaglePicher manages a portfolio of advanced technology companies, offering a range of custom-developed and –designed products for unique and sometimes history-changing applications. EaglePicher’s power systems have been on every NASA launch since the early 1960s, and in 2006, EaglePicher celebrated over a billion hours in space without a product failure.

“We worked with EaglePicher in early 2007 when one of our economic development entities built and leased the firm a building for a state-of-the-art lithium ion battery plant.” says O’Brian.

At end of 2007, EaglePicher announced they were consolidating all research and development in Joplin — a 30-person operation that promises to become one of the largest power system research centers in the U.S.

Big business is huge in Joplin, but there’s also no shortage of entrepreneurial spirit. One of Joplin’s small companies that is carving out a big national and international market is Images in Tile, LLC. Images in Tile uses its proprietary technology to transfer any artwork onto tile, stone or glass to create distinctive murals.

Technology like Image in Tile’s plays a significant role in Joplin’s economy today, but in Joplin’s early days, mining fueled the town’s rise to industrial success.

The People of Joplin, Past and Present
First established in 1871, Joplin actually came to life when a group of persistent miners found profitable ores and were rewarded for their diligence.

Through the next 75 years, Joplin led the world in lead and zinc concentrate production, becoming the center of mining activity for the Tri-State Mining District of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Even then, Joplin served as a social and business hub, with Tri-State mining families shopping, socializing and banking in Joplin.

“Historically, Joplin is a blue-collar community, but we’ve seen a lot of change over the past decade. Our city, our education system, and our people have risen to the challenge of transforming into a community based on medical care, retail, transportation and logistics and advanced manufacturing,” says O’Brian.

About 62 percent of Joplin’s available labor pool has at least some college experience and almost 93 percent of potential employees have a high school diploma, many with technical skill training beyond high school. Open to new possibilities, nearly 90 percent of workers say they are willing to work outside of their primary field of employment for the right opportunities.

To match the skills and talents of the workforce and to determine a targeted approach to future growth, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce commissioned a study by Taimerica Management Company. As a way of expanding the area’s economic base, the study identified four business sectors to target: distributions centers, administrative office operations, commercial machinery repair and custom computer programming. These sectors join Joplin’s range of existing firms in food processing, fabricated metals, transportation equipment, plastics and packaging technologies, customer service centers and retail.

In addition, Taimerica’s survey of 65 area companies sums up the reason Joplin is such a favorite of local, national and international business alike: its major transportation access; skilled, available and willing workforce; low operating costs and taxes; and a quality of living that comes from being a hub city.

“In Joplin, we have access to a talented, well-educated workforce with an unmatched work ethic, and the city and Chamber of Joplin and the state of Missouri have helped create a wonderful community with a low cost of living and competitive wages,” says Steve Westfall, president of EaglePicher Technologies, LLC. “That means we can attract talent from all over the country. It’s pretty clear our employees are happy to call Joplin home."