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The Growth of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry


When I was in college, I had a dorm suitemate at the University of New Mexico who was from Anthony, New Mexico. He invited a group of us to come to his house and to go on the then obligatory drinking tour of Juarez, Mexico. It was the early 1990s, and New Mexico Governor Bruce King was working with New Mexico’s congressional delegation to establish a new port of entry on the state’s border with Mexico. Rural Santa Teresa, just west of El Paso, Texas was eventually chosen, and I took advantage of my border trip to see the chosen site first-hand. I had already visited the Mexican Consulate in Albuquerque, which had archived press in its library on the port effort. The Mexican Consul was not very friendly, but he was kind enough to let me peruse through the archives, while berating me on everything negative pertaining to New Mexico.

After our Juarez visit, I drove my buddies up to the Santa Teresa mesa, saw four buildings in isolation surrounded by nothing but desert, and took a paved road past a metal building until the pavement turned into a washboard road. Feeling hesitant about where we were going, I entered the building and asked the receptionist if this was the road to the border. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Yes, why do you want to go there?” I told him about the intent of the state to establish a new port of entry and he just looked at me as if I were crazy. Jumping back in the car, I drove about five miles on the narrow, rough road until it stopped at a barbed-wire fence. This was New Mexico’s border in 1991.

Later that year, I graduated and took a job with the New Mexico Economic Development Department as a trade specialist. I became part of the team working with state and federal officials on both sides of the border to open up what became the new Santa Teresa Port of Entry, which was inaugurated in 1993. The port was opened without pavement for 12 miles on the Mexican side of the border. However, to its credit, the Mexican government immediately built brick and mortar permanent port facilities. On the New Mexican side, glitches occurred in federal and state funding, so the state hauled two pre-fab buildings from the state prison in Santa Fe to serve as the port facilities. In one of history’s comical twists, these were conjugal-visit buildings. After establishment, it wasn’t until 1998 that Mexico paved the road to the port and New Mexico finished construction on the permanent facilities that exist today.

The Santa Teresa Port of Entry was built on a “build it and they will come” attitude. Governor King was trying to capitalize on the discussion and negotiations of what eventually became the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I remember when I took my trade specialist job, New Mexico, a border state, ranked behind Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Iowa in terms of exports to Mexico. At this time, the Intel plant in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, was routinely accounting for 80 percent of the state’s exports to the world.

A lot of hope was placed on the port bringing economic development activities to New Mexico and launching the state into the global market. Frustratingly, the growth of the Santa Teresa industrial base around the port was slower than was expected, as its location was perceived to be too far from El Paso and Juarez, even though it is only a few miles away. Money for infrastructure to support development was sporadic, and the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor, the population base of the state, tended to discount any development in the southern part of the state.

Being a Northern New Mexican who was raised in Española, I remember when I started working in Mexico and on the border I used to catch a lot of flak from southern New Mexicans, who told me that we northerners think that we are superior in everything from politics to culture, and that the south was always being short-changed in attention and funding. This reaction surprised me at the time, but I eventually began to see what they were talking about.

In addition to a new port of entry, Governor King also wanted to establish a commercial/tourism office in Mexico City, to make the state more visible when NAFTA came into effect. Lo and behold, he appointed me to set up and manage the office, which I did for three years. During this time, I worked with Mexican federal officials to open the Santa Teresa Port.

When I repatriated to New Mexico, I moved to Santa Teresa to be a part of the impending explosion of growth in the region. To my and many other people’s dismay, the port region did not magically grow as expected. Doubt set in as to whether the state had made a mistake, and many people, including legislators, started to question investing more money in the port region.

In those days, when I testified in front of legislative committees lobbying for infrastructure funding for the port region, I always spoke of potential. After a while, the word “potential” started being sarcastically used when referring to Santa Teresa. However, being young and idealistic, I knew that the port had more than potential - it had to succeed. However, aligning all of the pieces to make it succeed seemed overwhelming.

This is the first in a two-part commentary. Next article: The making of a modern-day border success story.

Jerry Pachecho is the President of the Border Industrial Association. Pacheco's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.

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