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Time change presents challenge for border business and trade

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Commentary:

“Time keeps flowing like a river,” are lyrics from the song “Time” by the Alan Parson’s Project. Time flows until man tinkers with it. More than two decades ago, to improve efficiencies and to minimize confusion, both Juarez and El Paso decided to move to Mountain Standard Time, putting the Borderplex region (El Paso, Juarez, and southern New Mexico) in the same time zone. I remember the period that proceeded this change very well, and how I flubbed a couple of appointments in Juarez because I forgot that the city was on a different time zone for almost half the year. It was extremely common for meetings and dates to be set and one party or the other would forget to clarify, “Juarez time or El Paso time?” When the three regions of the Borderplex were all put in the same time zone, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

However, this changed on October 26, when the Mexican Congress voted to get rid of Daylight Savings Time. So, while Mexicans recently turned back their clocks for the last time, they will not set their clocks forward in March. Under the new legislation, border states and cities that are synced to a time zone of a neighboring U.S. city or state can opt to remain on their traditional time zone. For example, the state of Sonora will continue not to change its clocks because it prefers to be in the same time zone as Arizona, which observes Mountain Standard Time all year.

Unlike Sonora, it appears that federal officials based in Chihuahua did not file the requisite paperwork or pursue the process with Mexico City requesting for Juarez to stay on the same time zone as the rest of the Borderplex region. Apparently, this was an oversight that caused a lot of issues when from one day to the next, time in Juarez was an hour ahead of El Paso and New Mexico. Many jokesters posted witty messages about the time change – in fact, I saw one meme showing a person crossing an international bridge into El Paso and the Customs officer asks him, “Where are you coming from?” The passenger very nonchalantly answers, “The future.” This is funny in cyberspace, but not funny in reality.

While it’s a hassle adjusting clocks twice per year, and the costs savings of using Daylight Savings Time is sketchy, we need to think intelligently about how to transition to a new time system with minimal negative impacts. Thousands of workers cross the border to work each day to work in Juarez, El Paso, or southern New Mexico. Many now find their homes on a different time zone than their jobs. Such is the case for one of my employees, who is an American working in our Santa Teresa office every day, but lives in Juarez.

Thousands of students cross each day from Mexico to go to schools in El Paso, Sunland Park, and Las Cruces. The University of Texas at El Paso has the highest percentage of foreign students enrolled of any university in the U.S., mostly because of students from Juarez. While Mexican students will have the benefit of leaving later to classes in the U.S., upon crossing back into Mexico, they will lose an hour for study, work, or family time.

The time change has even caused issues at the region’s ports of entry. Take for example a port that was previously processing commercial traffic from 8:00 am to midnight. Now that the time has changed in Juarez, the Mexican side is closing at 11:00 pm, El Paso time. In Juarez, where production and shipping start an hour earlier than the U.S. side, trucks are lining up an hour earlier for the ports to open on the U.S. side. This is resulting in confusion, stress, traffic disruption, and logistical/production inefficiencies. Longer waiting times for the U.S. side to open also means longer idling times for trucks, thus resulting in more emissions. From the backlash of the industrial bases on both sides of the border in the Borderplex, it is safe to say that millions have been lost due to these inefficiencies.

The Borderplex region is one of the largest production bases in North America. It is competitive because companies enjoy the benefit of locating parts of their business on both sides of the border. Large labor-intensive plants in Juarez are supplied with components and raw materials from the U.S. side of the border. Many firms producing in Juarez have their distribution centers in industrial bases such as El Paso and Santa Teresa.

Site selection consultants that help manufacturers and distributors select sites that suit their needs love the Borderplex region because their clients receive the benefits of both Mexico and the U.S. In order to remain competitive, both sides of the border need to stay on the same time zone in order to minimize disruptions and to allow efficiencies in production and logistics. The Borderplex becomes less attractive if a company’s production base in Juarez is on a different time zone from its suppliers and distribution center in the U.S., located a mere five miles away.

It appears that Chihuahua is working with Mexico’s federal government to allow Juarez the option to remain on Mountain Standard Time. At this point, it is unclear when this situation will be resolved. In the meantime, remember that when setting meetings, meals, zoom calls, and arrival times be sure to ask, “Juarez time or U.S. time?”

Jerry Pacheco is President of the Border Industrial Association and Executive Director of the International Business Accelerator.