The past decade has been transformative in the city of Surprise, Arizona. A community once known for rooftops and retirement spots has emerged as one of the top-ten largest cities in the state with a bustling business community where industrial, commercial and retail developers are jumping at the chance to be part of the Surprise story.
Find out the secret to Surprise’s success from three people closely connected to the city’s business community:
U.S. Corporate Headquarters & Manufacturing Facility: Chet Keizer, Former President of manufacturer, IRIS USA
Why did IRIS USA choose to locate in Surprise?
“IRIS set up its Surprise facility in 2016, and it’s been off to the races ever since. Not only did we appreciate how well Surprise was served by rail and brand new land developments, we wanted to be inside an actual community, similar to what we had enjoyed in our other facilities. So a couple of years after we opened in Surprise we moved our corporate headquarters here. We just fell in love with the community.”
What was your workforce experience in Surprise?
“We’d moved from Wisconsin, and had encouraged many employees to move with us. Many backed out, but in most cases, we were able to hire better quality people in Surprise. This isn’t to disparage those back in Wisconsin, but in Surprise we found people who were perhaps better educated, and had a greater skill set.”
What has your engagement with the city of Surprise looked like since opening your doors?
“We practice a form of the stakeholder model: whether it’s employees, community, vendors, customers etc., we share values with these groups and seek mutually beneficial relationships – and certainly, the city of Surprise became a major stakeholder to us. After we got things up and running, the engagement continued. A lot of our employees loved the opportunity to collaborate and engage with not just the local officials, but other businesses and so on in the community. I guess the sense of our self, the wit, our position in the community and where we could help others really made a big difference for us and for our employees.”
The city of Surprise Economic Development Department: Jeanine Jerkovic, Economic Development Director, City of Surprise
How has Surprise supported small businesses over the years?
“From the beginning we’ve had a heart for the small businesses in our community. One of our roles as an Economic Development Department has been to help the people who are moving to the city and starting businesses, which is primarily young families and young professionals, so that they can work a little closer to home. This is as a transitioning community, growing from a very small community to a larger, mid-sized city. Small businesses have an important role in providing goods, services and jobs in our community.”
What is the synergy between small business and big business in Surprise, and is there room for both to grow?
“We know that the larger businesses want to see that we can take care of small businesses and develop an ecosystem. They also want to see the potential to grow. As one of the few communities in Greater Phoenix that isn’t landlocked, Surprise has a 200 square mile area that’s not yet incorporated, but is in our planning area for future businesses and retail growth.I like to say we’re a big small town. So, we’re just big enough, sophisticated enough and experienced enough that we can help a large corporation. But, we’re small enough not to have lost our personal connection with small businesses.”
Surprise City Center / Downtown Development Company: Scott Phillips, Vice President of Carefree Partners
What sets Surprise apart from other places where you develop?
“What sets Surprise apart is simple: collaboration. As land developers, Carefree Partners does business in a lot of different cities, and Surprise is more oriented towards collaboration than pretty much any other city we deal in. Its collaboration is linked with problem solving, and in Surprise there is an approach where we all recognise our own roles to play.”
Why is there still premier land available in Surprise City Center near the civic centre and recreation campus?
“Today, the city is home to about 150,000 people, but someday it will be half a million. So, we’re working as much for the people who are going to be here in 30 years as we are for the people who are here today. Primarily, our role in Surprise is to be the stewards of our land, which we’ve owned for approximately 20 years. To do that, we just have to be patient and wait until the right opportunities come along. People can get frustrated that development hasn’t happened faster, but the longer-term approach, waiting for quality projects, is the best.”
What do businesses need to keep in mind when considering locating in Surprise?
“Businesses that come here like the certainty of doing business in Arizona. There’s a high degree of autonomy, and the city authorities know businesses need a fairly free environment to attract trade and optimise the opportunity. But, Surprise also knows that there’s a level of regulation that’s needed to protect the quality of life and ensure that the city’s infrastructure is properly funded, and that natural resources are protected. On the private side, the developers, builders, and, ultimately, tenants and employers all have to buy into this concept and accept why Surprise is going to be a great place to do business. That all makes for a good balance.”
Want to learn more?
Learn more about Surprise City Center at surpriseaz.gov/citycenter.
Connect with the city of Surprise Economic Development Team at surpriseaz.gov/econdev.