The inauguration of Union Pacific Railroad’s huge Santa Teresa project on May 28 promises to change the economic complexion of southern New Mexico.
The complex consists of an intermodal yard, a diesel refueling station and a crew-changing station. In the future, a block swap yard, in which sections of trains are joined together for delivery to a specific destination, is planned.
The project’s statistics reveal its enormity. The $418 million project is 11.5 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest point. It sits on 2,200 acres, of which 1,200 are being utilized – this extra acreage will allow Union Pacific to expand years into the future. More than 100 miles of new rail, which sit on 136,000 railroad ties, were laid in the project.
The project generated 3,000 construction-related jobs, and 600 permanent employees will work on site. When the facility ramps up to full operation, it will have the capacity to service 225,000 freight containers per year.
During the past two years as the project was built, I toured the construction site a couple of times a week. Every time I visited, a new piece of infrastructure appeared.
I was amazed at how fast the construction companies broke ground and erected the project. One day, I counted about 50 railroad cars, each loaded with concrete railroad ties, waiting to be installed. Crews worked at night and through the weekends to build the project, which was completed almost one year ahead of schedule.
Attending the inauguration ceremony brought back a lot of memories. When I was in college, the state of New Mexico began serious investigations about establishing a new port of entry in south-central New Mexico. The two sites in the running were Sunland Park/Anapra and Santa Teresa/San Jeronimo.
During the feasibility study period, I drove to Santa Teresa and Sunland Park because I wanted to see for myself what the options looked like.
When I arrived at the Santa Teresa Airport Industrial Park, only four businesses were in operation: Acme Mills, Foamex, Sterigenics and a sucker-rod plant making tools for the oil industry. The pavement ended at the industrial park. I stopped at a plant to ask for directions and was told that a dirt road south of the industrial park would lead me to the border.
Being young and fearless, I took this sandy washboard road and drove south. I had my girlfriend with me and she looked at me like she thought I was crazy.
I immediately proceeded to get us lost for about an hour, but eventually we ended up at a barbed-wire fence that served as the demarcation line of the U.S.-Mexico border. There was absolutely nothing in sight other than sand and mesquite. I seriously wondered if this location was realistic.
A couple of years later, Santa Teresa/San Jeronimo was selected as the port site, and the port officially was inaugurated in 1993.
Through the years, I have witnessed key elements come together in the Santa Teresa development. Private developers began building industrial parks and new industrial buildings back in the 1990s. Two additional parks were developed to complement the Airport Industrial Park.
In 2009, Foxconn built a 1.6 million-square-foot production plant in San Jeronimo, directly across from the port of entry in Mexico, to manufacture up to 55,000 Dell computers per day for the North American market.
This was important because it increased northbound port traffic, which made a case for port expansion with extra lanes being added. On the Mexican side, this resulted in new infrastructure in the form of the Boulevard Fronterizo (Border Highway) being extended from downtown Juarez to the Foxconn plant. It also brought new water, electricity and natural-gas infrastructure – all necessary to allow for development on the Mexican side of the border.
Today, there are approximately 50 manufacturing and logistics plants in the Santa Teresa industrial parks and immediate vicinity, and there is a buzz building over this rapidly growing industrial base.
The new Union Pacific Santa Teresa facility feels like a capstone to a two-decade-old project. It is an affirmation of the “build it and they will come” dreams that the original public- and private-sector visionaries had.
At one point during the dignitaries’ speeches at the inauguration, I felt myself getting a little emotional as I remembered all of the people I met and worked with – some of whom are no longer with us – who had something to do with establishing Santa Teresa’s industrial base.
For a second, I turned away from the stage and looked south toward the port of entry and was transported back 23 years to that day I got lost in the desert.
Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at email@example.com.