A 30-minute drive east on US 412 from Tulsa takes you to the town of Chouteau, where the sight of a horse and buggy might make you think you’ve stepped back in time. But go a few miles north on US 69, and you’ll find a busy, 9,000-acre industrial park – the largest in Oklahoma – that has among its tenants several companies whose eyes are fixed squarely on the future.
With a population of just over 2,000, Chouteau is tucked into the southwest corner of Mayes County. It takes its name from the family of the famed fur trader Jean Pierre Chouteau, and once was a terminus on the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway that crossed Indian Territory.
The area is populated by about 600 members of the Amish religious sect, and according to AmishAmerica – a state-by-state guide to Amish communities – is the largest Amish settlement in Oklahoma.
Chouteau’s Chamber of Commerce proclaims the town as a blend of culture and industry, while Mayor Sandra Cunningham notes that Chouteau is a place where cultures come together.
“We pride ourselves in our culture and appreciate our diversity,” she says, noting that in addition to the town’s Amish population, Chouteau is within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction.
Cunningham described Chouteau as “a close community that bonds together in both successes and defeats,” with a unique and friendly culture visible throughout town.
“We’re just a small little kind of Amish community,” says Randi Goins, Chouteau Chamber of Commerce president. “We have a super low crime rate. We’re a very tight community. Everybody is super involved in Chouteau. When an event is held, everybody is there.”
Chouteau also serves as the gateway to the eastern Oklahoma lake area, with Fort Gibson Lake, the Grand Lake O’ Cherokees and other bodies of water beckoning.
Just up the road from Chouteau, however, lies the sprawling MidAmerica Industrial Park – originally a U.S. government installation for making black powder – that today houses some 82 companies that employ about 4,500 workers who live throughout the area, says Sherry Alexander, the industrial park’s business development director.
Chief among the operations, she says, are the Google data center, with about 800 workers, and the RAE Corporation that designs and builds engineered heating and cooling, with about 300 employees.
“And they’re still hiring!” Alexander says.
The industrial lineup also includes Canoo, a Texas-based, high-tech company that specializes in electric vehicles. Canoo announced last year that it will locate a major expansion of its Oklahoma operations in the MidAmerica Industrial Park. Gov. Kevin Stitt hailed the expansion and the jobs it will bring in his Feb. 7 address to the Oklahoma Legislature.
Alexander agrees that the industrial park is vital to Chouteau’s economy.
“Everyone knows someone who works here,” she says. A Chouteau native, Alexander says the park is plugged into the local economy, and particularly the Chouteau-Mazie school system. The park also worked with the Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools and the other school districts the industrial park affects, creating workforce development programs and helping establish STEM learning labs.
“We can take them into the schools. We have very good relations with all the superintendents,” she says.
The Amish influence remains strong in Chouteau. Not only are there several Amish-owned businesses, but the town also celebrates its Amish heritage each September with Black Buggy Day, an event that Mayor Cunningham says attracts visits from all over Oklahoma. Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools Superintendent Lori Helton mentions that at the Mazie Elementary School south of town, about 55% of its enrollment comes from Amish families.
Mayor Cunningham says the community is ready for growth, with about 300 homes under construction.
“We are anticipating a spike in population growth due to the growth of the park,” she says. “We look forward to the challenges this presents.”