Surprise is one of the newest cities in greater Phoenix, with plenty of intrigue and potential. Surprise first gained popularity as a retirement town, but things have changed drastically in the last 20 years.
This West Valley suburb is booming with residential growth. Due to its large and undeveloped land mass, new communities are springing up all over Surprise. Unlike other landlocked Phoenix metros, Surprise still has plenty of room to spare, making it appealing for new homeowners and businesses alike.
Surprise is ensuring that it’s more than just a bedroom community. Ottawa University has a campus in Surprise, and businesses like Amazon have invested in the community. The $12-billion chip plant from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing will begin manufacturing in 2024 and is located only 20 minutes from Surprise.
- We spoke to the Mayor of Surprise about why it’s a great place to live
- We found out how much Surprise has grown and changed over the last 20 years
- We dove deeper to learn more about the economic growth in the city
- We spoke to Councilperson Jack Hastings about District 5 and what’s going on in the city center
- We explored Surprise’s entertainment offerings
- We found Surprise’s largest employers
- We’re going to show you some communities in Surprise where you can buy a home
Skip Hall has been Mayor of Surprise since 2018 and a city resident for almost 20 years. He’s experienced many changes in that time and believes that Surprise has a bright future.
Why do you think someone would want to move to Surprise?
I think we focus on three areas that appeal to people; The first is cleanliness. Our streets are incredibly clean. Secondly, we focus on safety. Public safety is a huge deal. We have a great police department and fire department. Their response times are impressive. The third factor is that we’re friendly. We’re friendly to businesses. We’re friendly to each other. We have many ways for people to get involved and be part of the community.
People are accepting here because Surprise comprises Americans from all over the country. All of them are seeking a community of their own — and they’re looking for those three things. They want to live and work in a friendly, clean city that’s well managed.
We want to continue being friendly to each other and businesses. When businesses come to Surprise, they feel like we want them here. How can we help you arrive here, and how can we help your employees once you get here? We’re always looking at ways we can improve. I think we’ve walked the talk.
What are some of the changes you’ve witnessed in Surprise since moving to the city in 2003?
When I first moved here, there were approximately 62,000 people. Surprise is now approaching 155,000. That’s more than double the population. And with that comes roads and more retail, more restaurants. We added Ottawa University in 2009, which is a four-year residential university.
We’ve had the 303, a big freeway that loops from I-10 to I-17 and comes right through Surprise. That triggered much development in Surprise. And from that, there’s been much explosive retail growth. Costco came to Surprise. Around Costco and in our railplex, there has been a lot of interest and land for sale. In our railplex, a railroad spur comes into it off the BNSF rail line. For people who need rail, it’s a great place.
I’ve seen so many things. We were a city of single-family homes with many retirees. The retirement communities were developed first, and Surprise got the reputation as a retirement community. When I moved here, that’s pretty much what it was. But now there are tons of families. We’ve got 6000 kids under age six in Surprise, and that’s a dynamic change.
Most of that growth since 2003 has been families, not seniors. We also didn’t have many non-profits in Surprise. We didn’t have a Rotary Club, Kiwanis, or any social infrastructure you would experience in the cities – they all had to be developed. We’ve got many more service clubs and non-profits that contribute to the quality of life of Surprise. And so that’s a significant change, too.
Tell us about the economic growth in Surprise – which industries are being drawn to the area and why?
When I first moved here in 2003, there was an Applebee’s and an Outback Steakhouse. That was it. Now we have many restaurants, and we have targeted some signature eateries. Cooper’s Hawk — an upscale winery and restaurant — is coming to Surprise. Firebirds are coming, too. We’re also getting our O.H.S.O. location — a famous brewery and distillery in Phoenix.
We’ve got a lot of small entrepreneurial restaurants, and there are so many choices. But that’s because we’ve decided to target restaurants to come to our city. Our economic development department member focuses on restaurants that Surprise residents want to experience. We do a survey every year, receiving nearly 1500 to 2000 responses.
On the industrial development side, the railplex is sold out. Amazon is operating there right now. There’s also Iris USA, Seaca Plastic Packaging, Trimaco, the National Indoor RV center, and so much more. There’s going to be a lot of construction in our industrial park. Some of it is spec, but a lot is already leased to different companies coming here. And that’s another area we’ve targeted, and it’s paid off.
We are also partners with Ottawa University. We brought them here, got them to invest in Surprise, and donated the land as part of the deal. There are over 1,000 students, but their goal is 3,000 students in the next five years. That’s a lot of growth. And it adds so much energy to our community.
Then there’s the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. They are building an unbelievable chip factory. They will have over 4,000 construction workers building their plant, which will be a $12 billion investment. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Surprise.
Those employees are going to need to live somewhere. Surprise is able to house employees from the plant. Then there’s Ottawa University. We think Ottawa could play a role in supplying the engineers needed by the plant in the future.
We’ve also worked on our broadband capacity. And it’s not a targeted industry per se, but it’s one of the top factors driving business site selection today. We put in for a grant called the Arizona Broadband Development Grant program. And we were one of the three cities in Maricopa County counties to be awarded a $1.65 million grant to increase our broadband capacity. With more private investment, we think we will soon be a very broadband cable and fiber optics-centric community. That’s going to attract bigger businesses. That’s really what we want to do.
Can you tell us about your personal and professional life in Surprise?
I moved here in 2003 from California. I intended to retire, and eventually, I got tired of playing golf. My wife said, “You need to get involved in the community somehow.” So, I ended up on the Planning and Zoning Commission and worked with them for three years. Some people came and asked me to run for the city council. I was sworn into the city council, and it was April 2008. It’s been over 14 years. But I was appointed mayor in 2018 when the previous mayor, Sharon Wolcott, resigned. My term began in 2021 and runs until the end of 2024.
There’s a lot of residential growth happening in Surprise. What’s driving that upswing?
We’re in the middle of the housing shortage, and just such a huge demand. There’s a need for all types of housing, whether rent or own.
We need more because people want to come to Arizona, which is a great problem. The housing market is insane right now. It’s not uncommon to see two-story houses in the $500,000 range, and we don’t necessarily live in an area like Scottsdale, which contains a lot of luxury housing.
Surprise is not even close to being fully developed. We have a big footprint on the map. So, you must find a balance. You want to build out as efficiently and quickly as possible, but you must keep up with some of the challenges that come along with building. We must make sure we have adequate roads. We have police and fire stations to ensure we can provide services to that area. We want to partner with companies that offer robust internet access. That way, some can work from home instead of enduring the commute to other parts of the city.
Is your area of Surprise experiencing more economic growth due to this influx of people?
Yes and no. The city center area is a slow process because the land around City Hall is not owned by Surprise. We don’t have a ton of control over what goes in there. But recently, the city partnered with a developer responsible for building the Prasada neighborhood. It’s the western portion of the developed part of Surprise. There’s a lot of retail, a bowling alley, a mall, a movie theater, and miniature golf.
That area is exploding, and here in the city center, the landowners around city hall have hired the Prasada developers to create something similar in our area. As more people move to the area, they need the schools and the critical infrastructure. But they also need things to do on the weekend. We don’t want them to leave Surprise all the time for entertainment because it is inconvenient, and they take the tax dollars with them.
Can you tell us about District 5? Is it residential, commercial, or a mix of both?
There’s the potential to be both right now. I’m in what we call the city center. That isn’t necessarily the center of the Surprise land area, but it’s the center of the development in Surprise right now. It consists of City Hall, a couple of neighborhoods, and surrounding City Hall, there’s a lot of empty land. That land is being built out — some of it will be residential and some for entertainment, which we’re all excited about. There are about 12,000 registered voters in the area. We have over 150,000 people in our city.
You’re an ambassador for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council – can you tell us about that group?
The council’s job is to recruit businesses to the greater Phoenix area. We need to be able to be competitive with other cities. Everything must be legal and above board. We must prove that it can benefit the taxpayers.
The council hosts workshops and forums to attract businesses, and the city pays for it. We always hope we get much more out of it than the initial investment.
What is your personal and professional relationship with Surprise?
My grandparents, parents, and I all moved here in early 2000. I’ve lived most of my life here. I’m 28 and was a high school teacher. I taught at the school that I attended, teaching students high school civics, government class, and US history.
It was a great job until I decided to run for city council, which at that point, I had to resign. My wife and I plan to start a family here in a few years. I’m just a hometown kid, and I love the area.
What’s vital for someone to know before they move to Surprise?
They should know that it’s a growing city. We’ve reached the point where we are a bigger city, but Surprise still has a small-town feel. Many people know each other. People are friendly. We have a diverse population. There are many seniors, but younger families are now coming to Surprise. The average age is around 35. But it’s a place where you can go through all phases of life. You can go to school, go to a local university like Ottawa, get a job in the city and eventually retire here.
What makes Surprise unique when compared to the rest of Phoenix?
It comes down to when people compare us to other places. It’s like the West Valley versus the East Valley. The East Valley is built out. Surprise is new. It’s growing. You have a chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself because we’re in a significant phase right now. We’ve done a lot, and we have a lot to do.
Many of the greater Phoenix cities are landlocked and have older resources like traditional shopping malls that are on the way out just because of how we live today.
In Surprise, you’re getting newer infrastructure and better services. Arizona continues to be an economic powerhouse. More businesses will want to come here, and as they see Phoenix filling up, they will start coming to the West Valley. I think there’s much potential for Surprise in the future.
Things to do in Surprise
From street art to Major League Baseball Spring Training, there’s plenty to explore in the West Valley. Here’s a list of activities to check out:
A map of locations where you can view some of Surprise’s best street art, from murals to sculptures and installations.
If you’d rather stay indoors, the West Valley Arts HQ is a gallery with many different pieces on display.
Fun for the whole family is covered at Uptown Alley with bowling, an arcade, and laser tag.
Want to do some axe throwing in Surprise? No problem.
If you feel like fishing, Surprise has an urban lake.
Surprise Stadium is home to the Texas Rangers and Kansas City during Spring Training.
Largest Employers in Surprise
According to Lensa, here’s where you should be looking for a job once you arrive in the city.
Where to buy a home in Surprise
Builder: Toll Builders
Location: 17193 West Montpelier Street, Surprise, AZ
Price: $618,995 to $702,995
Size: Two to four bedrooms, 1520 to 2215 square feet
The Stirling Grove Alexandria Collection comprises single-family homes and is currently under construction. The community contains tree-lined streets, cornerstone parks, water features, and miles of walking trails throughout the neighborhood.
Builder: Mattamy Homes
Location: 13230 North 174th Lane, Surprise, AZ
Price: $446,990 to over $660,990
Size: Three to four bedrooms, 1627 to 2894 square feet
Aria Ranch is a single-family development with great views of the mountains and easy access to nearby conveniences. There’s also close proximity to Loop 303, taking you anywhere in the valley you want to go.
Builder: Taylor Morrison
Location: Near Peoria Avenue and Loop 303
Price and sizes: Coming soon
The Venture II collection is expected this fall from Taylor Morrison. Residents will have views of White Tank Mountain Regional Park and planned amenities such as a two-acre community park, resort-style pool, clubhouse, fitness facility, and game courts.
Builder: Toll Brothers
Location: 17193 West Montpelier Street, Surprise, AZ
Price: $1,383,995 to over $1,505,995
Size: Three to five bedrooms, 3372 to 3579 square feet
These lavish condominiums have 12 to 14-foot ceilings in the main living areas and feature Spanish ranch architecture. Personalization options include private guest casitas, additional bedrooms, wine rooms, multi-panel stacking doors, and more.
Builder: Taylor Morrison
Location: 11334 North 168th Drive, Surprise, AZ
Price: Coming soon
Size: Two to five bedrooms, 1952 to 2918 square feet
Paradisi Encore Collection is a single-family community coming soon from Taylor Morrison. There will be five different models to choose from: Sapphire, Pinnacle, Redwood, Stirling, and Hudson. The development is close to Lake Pleasant and Surprise Stadium and just over 30 minutes to downtown Phoenix.