Want to hear something that’s going to change your world view? Point it south and prepare to be flummoxed.
Why? Because the borderlands of today bear no resemblance to the borderlands of yesteryear. In fact, over the last three or four years, they’ve been undergoing a transformation that is about to revolutionize the way southern New Mexico is viewed worldwide. And it’s happening right in our own backyard.
Got your attention? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.
A few days ago I and a small contingent of Bulletineers drove south, to the tiny border town of Santa Teresa, New Mexico, for a tour of what has come in recent years to be known as the Borderplex. It was an eye-opening experience from start to finish.
Our tour guide on this excursion was Jerry Pacheco, vice president of the Business Industrial Association, an energetic visionary whose life work is being realized in the badlands along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“The most exciting economic development project in the state is going on right here,” Pacheco said as a warm up, then began inundating us with numbers.
Did you know that Mexico is one of the largest export countries, appearing at number two in the top 10 list of NM export destinations in 2012 with an astounding $600 million in revenue?
How about that New Mexico led the nation with an export growth percentage of 42 percent in 2012?
Here’s another one for you: according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the make-up of exports from the United States to Mexico is more than 50 percent via the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. And, because Santa Teresa is considered to be part of the El Paso metropolitan area, it is considered number four in the nation’s largest exporters by city, behind Detroit, Los Angeles and Houston.
Pacheco has one last piece of information to savor.
“Two years ago, we were crossing about a billion dollars worth of trade a year through Santa Teresa,” he said. “Now it’s around a billion and a half dollars a month.”
How is all of this possible? Because while we here in Las Cruces have been going about our daily lives, the industrialists have been building a base of operations that could, in very short time, rival anything being accomplished in China, Japan or Europe.
That base is made up of hundreds of acres of desert, dotted with warehouses and office complexes housing manufacturing companies on the cutting edge of technology; companies with names like FXI, General Pacific, Inc., Menlo Logistics, Erickson Metals, Interceramics, Inc. and the granddaddy of them all, Foxconn, which sits like a huge hulking bastion of prosperity within a stone’s throw of the border, in Mexico.
Foxconn, for those out of the loop, is a Taiwanese multinational electronics manufacturing company, the world’s largest, responsible for such notable can’t-live-without-it items as the iPad, iPhone, iPod, Kindle, PlayStation and Wii. Impressed? You should be.
Feeding Foxconn and other companies like it are the companies mentioned earlier, in a symbiotic relationship combining the infrastructure and distribution of the American free trade system with the economical labor and easy restrictions of Mexico.
“Companies who decide to locate here are doing so because they have a buyer on the other side of the border connected with the maquiladora industry,” Pacheco explains.
A maquiladora, for the uninitiated, is an assembly plant located in Mexico, usually along the US-Mexico border, to which foreign materials and parts are shipped and from which the finished product is returned to the original market. It’s a synergetic alliance that is at the heart of this latest industrial revolution.
The success story of the moment, however, is the introduction of Union Pacific, North America’s premiere railroad franchise, to the mix. Currently terraforming several miles of desert into a massive intermodal rail yard to serve the needs of the growing industrial park, Union Pacific is working day and night to complete their complex, which will include 75 miles of track adjacent to the main line within a twelve mile range, by the first quarter of 2014.
“We did a calculation and they’re spending about $400,000 a day on the project,” said Pacheco. “The amount of dirt that they’ve moved is about the equivalent of A Mountain. If you put all that dirt in rail cars, the train would stretch from the border all the way to Albuquerque.”
It’s not hard to imagine. As we jolted and jostled along the rutted county road – a road that will eventually be paved – we saw trucks by the dozens rolling in, being unloaded by swarms of uniformed workers, and rolling out again, like a well-oiled, if a bit dusty, machine.
“It’s like somebody is building an enormous empire out here,” Pacheco said. “I joke all the time that it’s like something out of a James Bond movie.” He laughed before returning to the business at hand. “This facility, when it’s completed, will dwarf the rail yard in El Paso,” he said. “It will be the size of the rail yard in Joliete, outside of Chicago.”
Best of all, it’s not costing New Mexico a penny. It’s all paid for by private sector money.
“It’s the biggest project on the U.S.- Mexico border,” said Pacheco. “Imagine the tax base that is going to be created here. For the first time, we in one of the poorest parts of the state, instead of being a net taker on the tax side, will be a net contributor to the state’s coffers.”
He finished the tour with a summation that brought everything into focus for those of us on the tour.
“There aren’t a lot of people in Las Cruces who really understand the scope of what we’re talking about here. We are going to be the economic powerhouse of the country and we are going to see the manufacturing base of the state of New Mexico shift from Albuquerque to here,” he said. “Understand, we’re not trying to take jobs away from Albuquerque, nor will we. It’s all going to be new industry. Our friends in Las Cruces, they go to bed every night and they never even realize what’s going on in the Borderplex. They’re going to wake up one day and there will be a city down here.”
Got your attention, now?