The Arizona-Mexico Commission hosted a “Gateway to Arizona” series that started in Douglas, continued in Nogales and ended in Yuma. The purpose of the event was to “showcase and celebrate the importance and uniqueness of our border communities” and “hone in on the importance of the growing international trade and commerce sector for Arizona and the special roles our border communities play.”
Each event included a panel discussion on the Arizona-Mexico relationship with Kirk Adams, chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey; AMC Board President Jessica Pacheco; University of Arizona Research Center Director Dr. George Hammond; and Luis Ramirez Thomas, chair of the Border Infrastructure and Economic Development Initiative for AMC.
Juan Ciscomani, senior advisor for regional and international affairs for Ducey, thanked the four mayors that partnered with the commission, Wellton Mayor Cecilia McCullough, Somerton Mayor Jesus Yepez, San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez and Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls, to bring the event to the YumaSan Luis region.
Ciscomani explained that the commission was in Yuma because “we want to hear your questions. We want to hear what’s on your mind, how we can be better partners.” He noted that Ducey has been “really focused” on southern Arizona and during an earlier summit in Tucson asked how he can help border communities. He wanted these communities to feel the “appreciated” for being gateways to Arizona. One idea was to produce a promotional video for each area with participation from the mayors. The video for Yuma was rolled out Wednesday.
Julie Engel, president and CEO of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp., noted that her organization will use it in marketing efforts.
Adams pointed out that Arizona’s partnership with Mexico is “critical to the economy” and that “the governor views the fact that Arizona is a border state as an asset and opportunity.”
Hammond noted that border-crossers eat, shop and stay in resorts, strengthening Arizona’s economy. He noted that trade flows are up since 2003 through the San Luis border port of entry: $1.6 million in 2017, up 81 percent from 2003, and 5.8 percent of the total Arizona border crossings. Engel pointed out that many of these border-crossers make up an essential workforce in Yuma County.
Pacheco highlighted ways the San Luis border is unique, including its innovative programs designed to improve customer service and safety and expedite flow through the border. “These programs come from you,” she said, noting that these ideas came from the local community.
“What we need here is a lot of help from the state,” local businessman Russ Jones said, pointing out the “desperate” need for upgrades and more staff. “Wait times are getting ridiculous ... We’ve been knocking on doors. We’re not just doing it for San Luis. We’re doing it for Yuma County and the state,” he added, noting that San Luis and San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, are “growing fast and not stopping” and “people want to do business in Arizona and people want to do business in Sonora.”
Adams also pointed out that the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico will bring “enormous opportunities” and “as a group we need to make sure Washington, D.C., and the administration there hear our voices and understand why investment at the border is so important.”
Sanchez noted that each year 8 million cars cross the border in San Luis, a city with a population of 36,000, and those bordercrossers use city streets and sidewalks. “With a budget of $62 million, it’s really tough to fix the streets.”
Paul Brierley, executive director of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, asked if it’s true that most of the congressional support goes to Texas borders. Pacheco acknowledged that Texas does a “really good job” with the appearance of unity and having strategic conversations on their border needs.
But, she noted, it’s been a concerted long-term effort. “We can do better in working together, crafting a message strategically … We can’t just show up with a wish list. We need to prioritize and know who the decision makers are.”
Jones noted that Texas has advantages that Arizona doesn’t, like tolls to cross the border, that provide that state with additional resources. “We have to think outside the box” to find ways to fund infrastructure and incentives for investment in Arizona, he said.
John Courtis, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, asked about getting U.S. 95, the busiest two-way road in the state with links to Interstates 8 and 10, on the front burner. Adams pointed out that in the last several years, the economic situation in the state has changed and the state is now be in a better position to consider “strategic investment.” He encouraged locals to think of new ways of “stretching the dollar.”
“We are here today because we know how important this region is, not just to the state, but the entire country,” he added.Asked about the benefits of the new trade agreement, Ramirez said that the longer the trade war with China lasts the better it looks for North America and the more businesses start to look at investing here. The economic region that stretches from Yuma County to Mexicali is posed to experience tremendous growth, he said.
To view the Gateway to Yuma video please click here: https://www.azmc.org/neighbors-for-good/gateway-to-arizona/.