Gate­way to Ari­zona

Com­mis­sion se­ries show­cases Yuma-San Luis border re­gion

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARA KNAUB

Lo­cal may­ors and lead­ers used an op­por­tu­nity on Wed­nes­day to stress the need for in­vest­ment in the San Luis border re­gion.

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 De­velop-

ment 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.

Buy this photo at Yu­maSun.com PHOTO BY MARA KNAUB/YUMA SUN

SAN LUIS MAYOR GER­ARDO SANCHEZ URGES STATE LEAD­ERS to sup­port in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments to the San Luis Port of En­try dur­ing an Ari­zona-Mex­ico Com­mis­sion event held Wed­nes­day. Also pic­tured are (from left) Jose An­to­nio Lar­ios, Mex­i­can con­sul for Yuma and La Paz coun­ties; Well­ton Mayor Ce­cilia C. McCol­lough; and Yuma Mayor Doug Ni­cholls.

Buy this photo at Yu­maSun.com PHOTO BY MARA KNAUB/YUMA SUN

JULIE EN­GEL (FAR LEFT), mod­er­ates a dis­cus­sion with panelists (from left) Luis Ramirez Thomas, pres­i­dent of Ramirez Ad­vi­sors In­ter-Na­tional and chair of the Border In­fra­struc­ture and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Ini­tia­tive for the Ari­zona-Mex­ico Com­mis­sion; Dr. Ge­orge Ham­mond, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Ari­zona Eco­nomic and Busi­ness Re­search Cen­ter; AMC Board Pres­i­dent Jes­sica Pacheco.; and Kirk Adams, chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey.

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