OhioHealth and Volunteer Energy are cutting the work and healthcare commute for many residents of Pickerington.

Joe Henderson gets it that most people don't view Pickerington as a central Ohio business hub, and he's OK with that to a certain extent.

"We've been seen as a bedroom community for a long time," says Pickerington's development services director. "We should wear that as a badge of honor because families and kids come first in this community. If I was a business owner, that's the kind of community I would want to be in."

Perched on Columbus's eastern edge in Fairfield County, Pickerington and surrounding Violet Township have their fair share of retail stores, restaurants and office buildings. They serve a combined community of about 40,000 that's best known for its exponential population growth over the past three decades and a top-notch school system with stellar athletic teams.

But the opening in June of OhioHealth's $42 million Pickerington Medical Campus is raising the community's business profile. Located off Refugee Road just west of Route 256, the campus has an around-the-clock emergency care center and services that include outpatient surgery, medical imaging, primary care, sports medicine, orthopedics, rehabilitation and laboratory testing.

"We understood that the people of Pickerington wanted to stay in this area for healthcare," says Rob Davies, director of the Pickerington campus. "OhioHealth had a small presence here, but we wanted to build this type of facility. There is a lot of growth in this community and a real need for our services."

Davies says the population in Pickerington and Violet Township is expected to grow five percent by 2020. That same growth rate is projected in the surrounding zip codes of Fairfield and Franklin counties where an estimated 305,000 people already live.

Henderson says OhioHealth's investment in the medical campus has Pickerington officials hoping that other medical and professional office projects will follow.

"That was a very big addition for us," he says. "We've seen a lot of interest from developers, especially since the OhioHealth project started. If OhioHealth is here, then they want to take a peek."

Henderson says developers of several small medical office buildings are seeking city approval for their plans. In addition, some land purchases have been made by medical providers.

There is also interest from companies looking to build assisted living centers in Pickerington. Topping the list is Denver-based Spectrum Retirement Communities, which plans to construct a $26 million assisted living facility at Hill and Diley roads.

Pickerington's retail sector, most of it clustered along Route 256, is doing well, too. Henderson says 91 percent of the space is leased in the shopping centers there, with developers willing to invest in new properties and improve existing ones.

For example, Northstar Realty spent an estimated $2.8 million to build Hunter's Ridge Shopping Center at the southeast corner of Route 256 and 204. The company recently purchased the Shoppes at Turnberry across from Hunter's Ridge and plans to renovate it, according to Henderson.

Retailers, other businesses and commuters are currently dealing with the inconvenience of construction work on an $8 million overhaul of Route 256. The project is aimed at improving traffic flow and safety along the congested highway that connects Pickerington to Interstate 70. The work includes the addition of traffic lanes along Route 256 from Route 204 to I-70, new traffic signals and sidewalks, and the planting of 400 trees.

"The hope is we won't have backups on the freeway during the five o'clock rush hour," Henderson says, adding the traffic safety improvements and streetscape enhancements will be good for Pickerington's business climate.

The area already has the sort of demographics that attract businesses, says Mark Matthews, founder and principal of MMA Insurance in Pickerington. They include the high income level of its residents - the city's median household income stood at $81,480 in 2013 - and a well-educated community in which 40 percent of adults have a bachelor's or advanced degree.

"It's a great environment to be part of," Matthews says. "I truly believe this is the next big growth area in central Ohio."

But he also says there needs to be better cooperation between Pickerington and Violet Township on growing the business community.

"The city and township need to commit to a long-term plan for business development to take some of the burden off individual taxpayers," Matthews says.

"They need to find a way to work together so businesses can grow."

Theresa Byers, Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce president, says that is already happening.

"The city, township, schools and chamber are in fact meeting to discuss the future of our communities," she says, adding that each entity is working together in a "proactive and productive manner."

Byers, who recently moved to Pickerington from North Carolina, says she quickly picked up on the pride that people and businesses have in their community.

"What we lack in the way of tall buildings," she says, "we make up in the areas of community pride, support for one another and opportunities for success."

Pickerington has been a good place for Volunteer Energy to do business since it opened its corporate headquarters there in 2007, said Jerry Haines, director of marketing for the energy supplier. It's grown from 12 workers to 50 since arriving in Pickerington.

"We've found a talented pool of workers to draw on to fill technical, professional, sales and administrative positions," Haines says. "Local government leaders and staff from the Chamber of Commerce foster a dynamic business climate that routinely reaches out to company owners to help nurture and support their growth."

He says such dialogue needs to continue and staying on top of infrastructure improvements such as the Route 256 project is a good example of the city's proactive approach to enhancing the environment for businesses.

Henderson says Pickerington officials want to attract more companies such as Volunteer Energy so local residents won't have to commute elsewhere for jobs.

"We have a lot of people who want to work close to home," he says, "and we have the talented workforce that everybody is looking for to make their business successful."

Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.