When the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in southern New Mexico first opened in 1993, the border zone was little more than open desert and New Mexico exported less than $20 million annually to Mexico.
Twenty years later, New Mexico exports south of the border have surpassed $800 million. Santa Teresa has become a bustling center of industrial activity that’s home to 60 trade-related businesses, nearly 2,500 employees and the largest Union Pacific Railroad transshipment center along the entire Mexican border.
It’s been a long time coming, said Jerry Pacheco, executive director of the International Business Accelerator in Santa Teresa, who has worked to promote trade with Mexico since 1991.
“I’ve been like John the Baptist in the desert for more than two decades, telling people that Mexico is our big opportunity and that it’s staring us in the face,” Pacheco said. “It’s taken all this time to reach the tipping point, but people are finally paying attention.”
Indeed, in the 15 years that I’ve been reporting on public and private efforts to build the border industrial zone, I had never seen such accelerated development and business buzz as on my most recent trip to Santa Teresa, in March.
A steady stream of cargo trucks rolls in and out of the parks all day every day as tractors and bulldozers scrape out vast tracts of land to prepare for new businesses and cranes and construction crews erect buildings.
A few miles outside the parks, brushy desert is being transformed into residential neighborhoods to provide affordable housing for the rapidly growing workforce in the industrial zone.
The immensity of it all is felt when one tours one of the parks’ newer industrial tenants, Southwest Steel Coil, which ships steel to maquilas throughout northern Mexico.
Inside the Southwest plant, which stretches nearly a full block from end to end, huge overhead cranes move massive, 50,000-pound rolls of steel around the production floor. The rolls are shipped in by rail from mills throughout the United States. They’re offloaded from train cars that go directly into the plant on specially built tracks.
Once offloaded, the rolls are placed on gargantuan steel-cutting machines, which then slice them into custom-ordered sizes for maquilas. The cut steel, which is used to make everything from cars and auto parts to planes and home appliances, is stacked and stored at Southwest’s warehouse for just-in-time delivery by truck into Mexico.
While the industrial activity now underway at Santa Teresa is impressive, it may just be the tip of the iceberg as border-zone development approaches critical mass.
Development is just beginning, for example, in San Jerónimo, on the Mexican side of the border. That area was truly nothing but desert when the port of entry opened 20 years ago.
But now, the Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn operates two massive maquila plants there, and it plans to open a third factory by December. In addition, printing and packaging firm R.R. Donnelley & Sons opened its own factory next to Foxconn in 2012.
Corporación Inmobiliaria, which owns 47,000 acres in San Jerónimo, will break ground this year on the first 500 houses of a 3,200-home residential development. As residents move in, they’ll be pioneers in populating what until now was barren wasteland west of Ciudad Juárez.
In May, Corporación Inmobiliaria also will start developing the first 265 acres of a new 2,200-acre industrial park, said the company’s general director, Carlos Hernandez.
“We’ll finish the first portion of the industrial park by the end of the year,” Hernandez said. “We’ll also be working on community development alongside the residential development. We’re just starting promotional efforts for neighborhood commerce and services. By 2015, we expect to have some hotels and restaurants there.”
Both the New Mexico and Chihuahua state governments are working together to jointly plan and develop all the infrastructure needed to build a binational industrial border city. In the long term, investors and government officials on both sides of the border expect Santa Teresa and San Jerónimo to become a major inland port that captures a significant share of growing trade along the border.
With the rapidly accelerating pace of development now underway, it shouldn’t take another 20 years to get there.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Kevin Robinson-Avila at email@example.com or 505-823-3820. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.