ERIC ORSBORN: “Verrado was that first really incredible master-planned community in Buckeye that set the bar a lot higher than what a lot of people expected at the time — walkable community, tree-lined streets,” says the mayor of Buckeye, who was also the first resident of Verrado. “Those communities start to breed others and it becomes a domino effect.” (Photo by Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media)

March 28, 2023

Michael Gossie

Eric Orsborn uses development background to make Buckeye a boomtown

Eric Orsborn never saw his  future coming.

“I never thought I would be an elected official,” says the mayor of Buckeye. “Ever!”

DEEPER DIVE: AZ Big 100: 25 male business leaders to watch in 2023

But back in the day, Orsborn was a project manager for DMB Associates — which developed the game-changing master-planned community of Verrado in Buckeye — and DMB encouraged its associates to become ingrained in the community.

“They said, ‘We want you to get involved, get on a board, or run for council,’” Orsborn recalls. “And I said, ‘There is no way I’m running for council.’”

At that time, Buckeye was in the news a lot, but for the wrong reasons. The city was fiercely trying to find its footing and struggling to find the leadership needed to right the ship.

“When it came time for the elections in late 2009, I no longer worked for DMB,” Orsborn says. “Karrin Taylor Robson approached me and said, ‘Hey, have you ever thought of running for council?’ And I said, ‘There is no way I’m running for council.’”

Turning point for Eric Orsborn

Then, Orsborn met former Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck. 

“He said, ‘We have a fireman, a policeman, a veterinarian, a bookkeeper, and a couple of small businessmen on the council, but nobody that brings your big-budget experience,’” Orsborn remembers. 

Orsborn’s background was in heavy civil construction, including water, wastewater treatment plants, bridges and infrastructure. And no one on the council at that time brought the development experience Orsborn possessed.

“They said, ‘Your skill set is perfect for what we’re going to be going through over the next 50 years in the City of Buckeye,’” Orsborn says. “They really encouraged me to do it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Eric Orsborn served on Buckeye’s City Council from 2010-2018, was vice mayor from 2018-2020, and was elected mayor of Buckeye in 2020.

Since Orsborn was sworn in as mayor, Buckeye has witnessed the groundbreaking of Teravalis, a 37,000-acre mixed-use master-planned community that is projected to include 100,000 homes and 55 million square feet of commercial development; announcements by both Banner Health and Abrazo that they plan to build hospitals near Verrado Way and the I-10; Costco broke ground in December; plans for Verrado Marketplace feature movie theaters, a retail center, a gym and a grocery store; and there is 9 million square feet of industrial under construction and 40 million square foot of industrial in the pipeline.

Orsborn says some of the skills he built as a developer have helped make him a more effective politician.

“As a developer, you’re trying to find some common ground and it’s not always ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ but there are ways to make things happen,” he says. If it is ‘no,’ how can we get to a ‘yes’ that works for all of us? My background allows me to help the developers understand the things that we have to do as a city and why it can’t always be full after-burner. And also helping the city realize where we can help the development community to go faster. And the faster we go, the quicker we get infrastructure built, the quicker we grow a population that brings in more need for retail. And so then the retailers start coming in. It’s trying to have a good vision. The good developers that are coming in have good vision for what this place could become.”

Part of Orsborn’s vision is turning Buckeye from what has historically been a commuter city — residents travel elsewhere to earn a living — to becoming a hot spot for jobs. 

“Right now, we have 9 million square feet of industrial that is under construction and 40 million square foot of industrial in the pipeline. If you figure about three employees per 1,000 square feet, that’s 120,000 jobs in the City of Buckeye over the next 10 or so years.”

That doesn’t include the added jobs that come with the healthcare and retail projects that are already in the pipeline. And there is even talk about bringing a world-class resort to Buckeye, along with the city potentially being home to a movie studio with up to 16 40,000-square-foot sound stages.

“That starts to drag a portion of Hollywood our way,” Orsborn says. “And that, in turn, significantly grows the airport, which helps us to make investment in the airport.”

But Orsborn isn’t all about growth and development. He has helped spark efforts to protect one of Buckeye’s greatest natural resources — its open spaces and the White Tank Mountains so that generations that follow can enjoy the beauty that attracted many to Buckeye in the first place.

“I hope that we’re able to grow responsibly and grow some really special neighborhoods,” Orsborn says. “I hope we’re able to grow employment in our area so 90% of us don't have to drive out of Buckeye to work. I hope to bring retail to Buckeye and make it an incredibly special place, a destination city that people want to come and live. I don’t want Buckeye to be a city where people have to live because they can’t afford to live someplace else. I want people to be able to say, ‘I live in the City of Buckeye. I’m really, really proud to be here. It’s a special place to live.’”