Ohio's Fastest Growing City Is... Canal Winchester?

May 31, 2018

Brick buildings run straight through Waterloo Street in old town Canal Winchester; just across the intersection, the restaurant patios along High Street are full from the lunch rush. This is the historic center of Canal Winchester, just southeast of Columbus.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest estimates show the city growing faster than any other in the state. Canal Winchester grew by 4.4 percent between 2016 and 2017—narrowly edging out Dublin in terms of growth rate.

Development director Lucas Haire says that, from the outset, transportation has defined Canal Winchester. The city gets its name in part from the Ohio and Erie Canal. Later, the city became a rail hub.

“The rail, the canal and now US-33 are really what drives a lot of the development in the area,” Haire says.

The city is preparing for even more growth with a new parks master plan, and the local high school is adding a dozen new classrooms. But Haire admits part of why the city leads the pack has to do with where it started.

“Well, a lot of it is it’s based on the fact that we’re a small community,” Haire explains. “So it doesn’t take a lot of new people to generate that rate of growth.”

Canal Winchester added about 350 people over the year. Dublin added almost 2,000. Columbus, keeping its title as the 14th-largest city in the country, added over 15,000.

"We like to think that we've been planning for growth for the last 30 or 40 years, and now a lot of that growth is now coming to fruition," Haire says. "So we're seeing new housing going in. We're also seeing a number of new apartments."

Fantasy Cupcake owner Leah Dotson
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU

But Leah Dotson from Fantasy Cupcakes has noticed the shift, especially in terms of business turnover - or lack thereof.

“We had a lot of places come and go—shops,” Dotson says. “In the last two years, everybody has been staying, and actually a lot of people are coming in looking for places to be able to move in business-wise and housing-wise. So yeah, we’ve definitely seen a growth.”

Across the street, Rex Weiser, the chef and owner of Village Wines and Bistro, connects the growth with new Canal Winchester resident BrewDog USA.

Village Wine and Bistro chef and owner Rex Weiser
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU

The Scottish brewer opened its U.S. headquarters in Canal Winchester last year, and they’ve already startedto expand, with a beer-themed hotel in the works next to the 100,000-square-foot brewery.

BrewDog's popularity has apparently overflowed.

“We’ve gone from five days a week and about 30 hours being open to seven days a week, full-time lunch, brunch, everything,” Weiser says. “I’ve seen a lot of new faces. There’s been a lot of overflow, especially spill off from Brewdog. I mean that was a big—it drew a lot of people in.”

But Carm Smith, who runs Cornersmiths, goes back a bit further. Her shop and a handful of others all opened about seven years ago. She says it felt like there was just something bubbling up.

“We, the cupcake gals, the Wigwam, right before us was Harvest Moon, and it was like something almost universally said now’s the time,” Smith says.

Cornersmiths co-owner Carm Smith
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU

Those shops and restaurants now anchor old town Canal Winchester. And Smith believes the future for the city is bright because it’s struck a balance between protecting its heritage and fostering new growth.

“There’s an opportunity here not just because it’s an old community, but it’s like an old community that’s kind of pulling from the past and pushing toward the future,” she says.

Canal Winchester and Dublin aren’t the only Central Ohio cities showing growth. Rounding out the top-six fastest growing cities in the state are Powell, New Albany, Grove City and Hilliard.