Canadian County is fastest-growing county in Oklahoma; Piedmont fastest growing city
PIEDMONT — If you ever find yourself driving down a stretch of NW 164 on the western outskirts of town, make sure to take it slow.
The road is so pockmarked with potholes that it's no use trying to dodge them. Your best bet is to aim for the ones that look like they'll do the least damage.
In fact, to call it a road at all is generous.
"It's basically just a cow path with a little bit of asphalt over it," Piedmont City Manager Jason Orr said.
Canadian County was the state's fastest-growing county last year, continuing a yearslong trend of rapid growth in the western Oklahoma City metro area. While new residents say they moved to Piedmont, the county's fastest-growing city, for its open spaces and small-town feel, city officials worry they'll be unable to keep up with the demand for services that comes with that growth.
The biggest problem, Orr said, is that the city doesn't have the tax base to support those services. In Oklahoma, sales tax represents municipalities' main source of revenue. But Piedmont has relatively few businesses, aside from a handful of eateries, gas stations and small shops. The city has one grocery store, but because of a tax incentive city officials offered to attract the store to town, the business doesn't generate sales tax revenue.
That lack of tax base sets up a kind of Catch-22: meager sales tax revenue means the city doesn't have money for infrastructure development. But without that development — including fixing crumbling roads — the city has a hard time attracting major retailers that would generate revenue.
"It really puts us in a bind," Orr said.
Canadian County has led the state in population growth for several years. The county's population grew by 17.36 percent between 2010 and 2016, making it the fastest-growing county in terms of percentage of population during that period.
Although city-specific population growth numbers for 2016 won't be available until later this year, older figures show Piedmont has consistently led Canadian County in terms of growth. Between 2010 and 2015, the city's population grew by 22.36 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Canadian County's growth is part of a broader trend across the Oklahoma City metro. The metro area grew by about 2.1 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to census data, making it the 99th fastest-growing out of the 382 metros included in the study. The five fastest-growing counties in the state — Canadian, McClain, Oklahoma, Logan and Cleveland counties — are all in the Oklahoma City metro area.
Growth in Piedmont is perhaps most evident in the school district. Piedmont Superintendent James White said the district generally adds 100 to 200 students each year. He expects the district will top 4,000 students for the first time in the fall.
It's easy enough to see the effects of that enrollment growth just by walking through any school, he said. Cafeterias, common areas and hallways are crowded, and the district has had to bring in portable classrooms to help deal with booming enrollment.
“With that type of growth, obviously we're going to have some classroom space issues," White said.
Last year, voters in the district passed a $70.69 million construction bond issue that school officials said would help the district keep up with growing enrollment. Among other projects, the bond issue will fund the construction of an early childhood center and classroom addition at Northwood Elementary School.
Still has small-town feel
Despite that growth, Piedmont resident Ed Long said the city has retained the small-town feel that drew him in the first place. The town holds community events throughout the year, including parades on the Fourth of July and Founders Day in September.
Long, 43, and his husband moved to Piedmont from Yukon about two years ago. They were looking for a smaller town with more open space that was commuting distance from Oklahoma City, where Long works.
In Piedmont, they found what they were looking for, he said. The city is close enough to Oklahoma City that he can see the Devon Tower from certain spots in town. But it's far enough away that his backyard faces nothing but open fields.
"It's really quiet," Long said. “The only thing you hear are birds and the wind and, at night, the coyotes."
Leslie Berger, another Piedmont resident, has been in town long enough to see the growth take place. Berger, 36, grew up in Piedmont. In 2006, she and her husband moved back to town, and she's seen countless other families do the same since then.
One of the most noticeable changes is the handful of new businesses that have sprung up over the past few years. When she moved back to town in 2006, Berger noticed that a Sonic Drive-In and a Dollar General had opened along Piedmont Road. Over the past two years or so, several restaurants, the grocery store and a pharmacy have opened, as well.
“When I was a kid, we had two convenience stores, and that was it," she said.
One of the things that drew Berger and her family back to town was the open space it offered. She hears people in Oklahoma City complain that children don't play outside anymore. But in Piedmont, kids have the space to play outside. And, because people perceive the town as being relatively safe, most parents aren't concerned about letting their kids roam their neighborhoods.
“They play baseball, and dig holes in the dirt and ride bikes together," she said.
As important as the small-town atmosphere was in their decision to move back to Piedmont, the city's proximity to Oklahoma City was also important, Berger said. Berger works as the communications director at Oklahoma City University, which meant she needed a commute that was manageable. From Piedmont, campus is about a half-hour drive.
She just has to be sure to keep an eye out for potholes along the way.
“They're a constant struggle," Berger said. "I avoid potholes regularly.”