Councilman Lou Waters

As veteran members of the Tucson-Mexico Trade Coalition, Councilman Joe Hornat and I travelled to Ciudad Obregon, Sonora earlier this month, at the invitation of mayor Rogelio Diaz Brown.

Mayor Diaz Brown and a large delegation had recently visited Oro Valley to get acquainted and discuss the importance of forging a solid economic and cultural relationship and overcoming major barriers preventing a significant boost to cross-border trade in our region.

Our trip to Obregon included five mayors from Sonora and Sinaloa, executives from Visit Tucson, Pima Community College, University of Arizona, Tucson-Mexico Sister Cities, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the City of Tucson, the United States Consul General from Hermosillo, and an array of interested members of organizations who know how these many pieces of the economic puzzle must fit together.

The World Bank estimates that Mexico’s gross domestic product will grow at 3.5 percent this year with a recovery next year. As Arizona’s number one trading partner, Tucson needs to sit up and take notice of how a lasting trade alliance with Mexico will trigger its own economic recovery. 

Mexico is already expanding its Port at Guaymas on the Gulf of California. China’s president visited Mexico in May to discuss a massive deep water port on the Baja Coast. China needs a route to this continent, avoiding the choke points now at the Los Angeles ports. From the Guaymas Port, the fastest way into the U.S. is through Nogales, fostering world trade through Tucson. Add the rail line north from Guaymas, and you realize the possibilities.

The Mariposa Port of Entry at Nogales—one of the largest in the United States—is undergoing a $200 million expansion. Century cards are being issued for advanced security at the border, significantly speeding up cross-border traffic. But there are delays that are hurting us. Although efforts at the port and addition of new technology are improving matters, increasing numbers of produce trucks from the verdant fields of Sonora and Sinaloa are heading to Texas rather than Arizona to save time.  

Here’s what we need: More Customs and Border Protection officers—the blue uniforms who process cross-border traffic. The focus on border security has overshadowed the need for economic security.

We need a Union Pacific rail yard near Picacho, an Interstate-11 to bypass Tucson metro traffic for goods headed north to Phoenix and Las Vegas, and, of course, hundreds of millions of dollars from federal, state and local governments for infrastructure. The payoff would be more jobs and billions of dollars in trade.

California and Texas are solving their cross-border trade issues. Arizona needs to create its “Sun Corridor” and compete globally. Tucson needs to integrate fully into this vast economic puzzle and prevent itself from becoming, what one person in our group feared, “a truck stop.”

Oro Valley is a small but important piece of this puzzle. We are talking with Mayor Diaz Brown about cross-border tourism and athletic venues utilizing our magnificent Aquatic Center. Coaches from Mexico have already been at the facility speaking with us about amateur sporting events.

What’s become important to Councilman Hornat and me after two years with the Tucson-Mexico Trade Coalition is knowing that even Oro Valley’s small part in all of this was celebrated in Obregon last week. Even though the two of us were the only elected officials in attendance, we speak with other elected officials and the collective voice behind the call for a strong “Sun Corridor.” Those voices will keep getting stronger.

This economic target for the 21st Century is lush with promise. 

(Editor’s Note: Lou Waters is the Oro Valley Vice Mayor.)

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