JOPLIN, Mo. — It was once called one of the fastest shrinking cities in the nation.  But Joplin has begun to break out of that pattern as the city recovers from the 2011 tornado.

“A lot of communities impacted by disaster saw some pretty steep declines and population loss initially,”  said Sam Anselm, Joplin City Manager.

In fact, the experts say it’s not unusual to see a double digit loss in population. So Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm says it was a priority to help tornado survivors stay local. That meant making sure resources like temporary housing units got to the people who needed them.

“We pushed pretty hard to get them in a lot more quickly than they otherwise would have. That helped stabilize a lot of our uncertainty when it came to population loss. I think the other factor was opening schools on time,” said Anselm.

“97% of the kids showed up for the next school year. Joplin’s population is as high as it’s ever been,”  said Jay Nixon, Missouri Governor.

The US Census Bureau estimates the number at 51,818. That 678 higher than in 2011 when the storm hit. That growth is something other cities hit by disaster have not seen, like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“At one point, they had almost 40% of their folks gone. They were closing schools. Here, you’re rebuilding churches, you’re rebuilding schools. A hospital is rebuilt bigger with more capacity,” said Governor Nixon.

A bigger population is often tied to growth in other areas of the community.

“A lot of retailers look at certain thresholds. Population size is one of those, and if it’s a growing population, that’s a good sign for potential retailers coming to the area,” said Anselm.

The Joplin city manager points out that’s also good for attracting new employers.