By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
The border communities of Santa Teresa in New Mexico and San Jerónimo in Mexico could become the first master-planned, binational city along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gov. Susana Martinez and Chihuahua state Gov. César Duarte are scheduled to announce a new joint initiative today in Santa Teresa that commits both governments to work together on a cross-border master plan to turn the area into an industrial powerhouse capable of propelling the Santa Teresa-San Jerónimo ports of entry into a world-class international trading zone.
“We want Santa Teresa and San Jerónimo to be the most competitive border zone and the land port of choice for trade in North America, including shipments to and from Asia and Europe,” said New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela.
Unlike other twin cities along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Santa Teresa-San Jerónimo initiative is being planned from the start – before they emerge as bustling metropolitan centers – to avoid the chaotic development that has generated intense congestion and industrial and residential sprawl at other border regions, such as El Paso-Juárez.
“We believe it will be a first-of-its-kind, binational, master-planned community that starts with a clean slate,” Barela said. “We’ll work with our Mexican partners to align all the infrastructure, highways, utilities, roads and more needed to maximize job creation along the border. It will include green spaces, residential areas and industrial zones without the congestion and transport choke points typical at other places along the border.”
The initiative aims to build on development momentum already underway at Santa Teresa and San Jerónimo. The two communities, which hug the north and south sides of the border, are booming with trade-related activity connected to Mexico’s “maquila” assembly industry.
On the New Mexico side, Santa Teresa’s two industrial parks are rapidly expanding as supply companies set up shop to provide goods and services to Mexico’s maquilas. And, on the Mexican side, Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn has established a huge factory that’s now billed as the largest maquila operating in Mexico.
Union Pacific Railroad is also building a massive intermodal transshipment terminal and locomotive refueling station next to the Santa Teresa industrial parks that, once operational in 2015, will be the company’s largest shipping connection facility along the U.S.-Mexico border.
‘Stars lined up’
Both border communities are still in their infancy, since development there only began after the Santa Teresa Port of Entry opened in 1993. Together, they have a combined 70,000 acres of land available for industrial, commercial and residential development.
The land is held by two private companies, Verde Realty on the New Mexico side, and Corporación Inmobiliaria, owned by Mexican businessman Eloy Vallina, on the other side. The two firms designed a joint master plan this spring.
At today’s event in Santa Teresa, Martinez and Duarte planned to publicly commit to building out that master plan together as a public-private initiative and to jointly market the industrial zone to companies worldwide.
The governments will work to create the needed public infrastructure, such as roads, while working with landowners and local business associations to attract private investment in new industrial operations and residential and commercial development.
Jerry Pacheco, a longtime trade consultant and executive director of the International Business Accelerator at Santa Teresa, said public officials and private sector leaders on both sides of the border are united around the plan.
“The beauty of it is the public and private sectors are working together to build a model border city that avoids all the problems with zoning that you see elsewhere,” Pacheco said. “It’s a chance to do it with everyone on board on both sides.”
A lot of infrastructure is either already in place or under construction. This year, for example, the New Mexico Legislature appropriated $6 million for new water and wastewater facilities at Santa Teresa.
“The water supply is now complete and can handle growth projected out a decade,” Barela said. “Our roads have been planned to handle traffic out five to 10 years, and we’re right now building a new road to link the new Union Pacific facility with Pete Domenici Highway, which connects with the port of entry.”
On the Mexican side, the government has built a direct road connecting San Jerónimo with Juárez for rapid access to maquilas there. And Corporación Inmobiliaria recently built a new wastewater treatment plant and other utilities.
One of the next, biggest projects is building a long-planned railroad bypass that would skirt Juárez and connect San Jerónimo directly into southern Mexico, plus new lines northward into Santa Teresa. The Mexican government has already done a feasibility study on its side, and New Mexico is now preparing for a study in Santa Teresa.
“The railroad bypass is one of the top three projects that the Chihuahua state government requested funds for this year from the Mexican federal government,” Pacheco said.
Still, more modernization is needed on border crossing infrastructure in Santa Teresa and San Jerónimo, said Francisco Uranga, Foxconn corporate vice president and chief business operations officer for Latin America.
A lot has been done, such as opening two new commercial and two new passenger crossing lanes this year on the New Mexico side, he said.
“The most important thing is to make that border crossing more efficient,” Uranga said. “If they modernize the port of entry, private investment will come.”
Infrastructure development could be costly, however.
“We don’t have any hard estimates, but between public and private investment on both sides, it could easily stretch into billions of dollars,” Pacheco said.
Barela said New Mexico and Chihuahua officials are forming binational committees to work on seven issues: the rail bypass, port of entry, water use, security, energy, logistics and marketing.
“We’re forming the committees and appointing members now,” Barela said. “We expect to begin work immediately.”
Pacheco, who has worked for nearly 20 years to promote the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, said the two state governments are demonstrating an unprecedented level of cooperation.
“There’s never been a binational effort like this that I can remember,” Pacheco said. “I’ve never seen the stars lined up so nicely to get things done.”
Martinez said the Santa Teresa-San Jerónimo area is “endless.”
“With this visionary, master-planned community, we will be well-positioned to compete for large, global investments to locate in New Mexico,” she said in a statement.
“This region is strategically located in the central corridor of the NAFTA region, and it’s right in the middle of the U.S.-Mexico border between the two major seaports of Houston and Long Beach, making it an attractive location for manufacturers, transportation and logistics companies.”