SIERRA VISTA — Nearly 100 business leaders from Southern Arizona and Mexico gathered in Douglas last week to discuss the growing relationship between their two economies.
The Douglas port of entry. (Mark Levy-Wick News Service)
“Increasingly, the economy on both sides of the border are becoming more connected,” Gonzalez said. “The infrastructure is the vital component to this movement. Lack of infrastructure prohibits growth in the business community.”
With that in mind, a large portion of the forum was concerned with the planned new port of entry.
During his presentation, Gonzalez described the current port of entry in Douglas, which was built in the 1930s and renovated over a decade ago, as “broken,” and unable to meet the 21st Century needs of the two nations.
More than $150 million in goods were exported to Mexico through the Douglas port of entry in the second quarter of 2008, according to the North American Industry Classification System,
“The majority of our economy is dependent on Mexico”, said Bill Thomas, owner of Thomas Home Furnishing in Douglas. “Right now the peso has taken a little fluctuation and gone down in value, and our business immediately drops. Instantly.”
Thomas said that the long delays at the current port often cause possible patrons to turn away.
“It takes these people anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half or two hours to drive across,” he said, “and they’re just not going to do it. They get so frustrated just sitting in that line.”
Up to 75 percent of his business relies on customers from Mexico, Thomas said.
Scheduled to be completed no sooner than 15 years from now, the new port of entry would be located west of the current port and feature nine lanes for vehicle traffic. Two lanes would be specifically for commercial traffic, and there would be two cargo inspection docks.
The new port would triple the capacity of the current port for moving commercial trucks through, from 500 a day to 1,500.
“We certainly want the port expansion There’s no doubt about that,” Thomas said. “But they’re talking about this taking place in the next 12 to 15 years, not tomorrow. By the time they build it, it’s going to be antiquated.”
Gonzalez said the one of the main reasons for the delays at the port is due to the technology that they have at their disposal, and he said that the new port would be state of the art.
During his presentation on the current condition of Douglas’ economy, Robert Carreira, director of the Center for Economic Research at Cochise College, said that businesses in the area have been facing some financial trouble.
“In Douglas, the retail market has been in recession since September of last year,” Carreira said, though he noted that the numbers for Douglas were well within the normal range when compared to Cochise County.
Like many government projects, the new Douglas port of entry is struggling to get enough funds to finance the project.
“Right now it really comes down to funding,” Gonzalez said. There are three other states — California, Texas, and New Mexico — with their own projects in the works, 16 in California alone.
“All of these projects are competing for the same funds from the same pool,” he said.
Thomas expressed frustration at the government’s apparent lack of foresight about the need for a better border entry point.
“You put this in private hands, get both governments out of it ... it would be up in 24 months and operational, and the flow would be great,” he said. “It’s just a bureaucratic nightmare.”
With little recourse, Thomas and hundreds of other business owners are left to hope for an upswing in the economy, and that there is enough momentum to see them through until the new port of entry is completed.