Regional representatives discuss the path forward

May 8, 2020

Credit Regional Community Conversation with moderator Carlos Martinez Vela (top-left), Rick Francis (top-right), Alejandra de la Vega (bottom-right) and Marco Grajeda (bottom-left),

LAS CRUCES, NM - In a recent regional community conversation hosted in part by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, the relationship between Southern New Mexico, El Paso and Juarez was examined in terms of how the region as a whole is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and the economic fallout.

“We have become something far greater than neighbors. We are partners that depend on and support each other, and in doing so, we have become stronger. This is a chance to ensure this partnership is nurtured and protected.” Chihuahua’s Secretary of Innovation and Economic Development, Alejandra De Le Vega, summed up the relationship between regional entities in Juarez, El Paso and Southern New Mexico; Each hit hard by coronavirus and the economic shutdown that followed.

The Chair of El Paso’s Economic Recovery Task Force, West Star Bank President and CEO, Rick Francis, compared it to past events. “And that crisis as opposed to ten years ago, twelve years ago with the Great Recession that started up at the top at Wall Street and then filtered down, this one started on Main Street and we’re seeing the bread lines that we saw in the 1920’s depression. We’re seeing those with cars today like we’ve never seen.”

For Southern New Mexico, specifically the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, Border Authority head Marco Grajeda says that while there has been a sharp decrease in individual cross-border traffic due to travel restrictions, the news hasn’t been all that bad economically. “The Santa Teresa region has continued to operate largely without change during the crisis and that’s because many of the businesses were considered essential. Unlike the rest of the state that saw many business closures, only a couple of businesses had to furlough employees or reduce their hours; and these businesses were affected by the closure of auto manufacturing companies in Mexico. On the downside, our agency has been impacted financially since the state reverted money for infrastructure project due to the pandemic and like other state agencies, we will likely see a reduction in our budget due to the economic hit to New Mexico’s economy caused by the emergency orders and a crash in oil prices.”   

Secretary De La Vega says the lack of a plan for an emergency situation just like this one in the new U.S./Mexico/Canada Trade Agreement has proved problematic. “There is a lack of alignment as to what are considered essential sectors between our two countries and this creates a disruption in the global supply chain so this is something that we definitely need to address and try to implement within the USMCA.”

Another challenge for the region, according to Francis, is the daily sharing of information. “Sometimes, the data available from the different communities is not as robust as we would hope. I think they’re trying to do the best they can in terms of with the data they have, recognizing the holes in the data they have, to try and craft a way for us to keep people safe, but at the same time open up our economies.” But Francis says data should drive reopening. “First and foremost, is the safety and health and well-being of our citizens. That trumps everything. But once we understand that data, we see the trends, we must begin to get our community open. We must get people back to work, or this crisis could begin to look and feel like the Great Depression, not the Great Recession.”

And collaborative efforts in the region are expected to benefit the region moving forward. Grajeda said, “Now, as it relates to collaboration and innovation, we have seen a great deal of collaboration at the border on both sides, trying to keep our essential trade moving. Private industry, federal and state officials and many others have worked to make sure essential cargo continues to pass through our ports and continues to pass safely – that’s key – and make sure that businesses have the information they need. I do think it would be helpful to work as a region to develop strategies to reopen our economies. After all, this virus does not respect borders.”

De la Vega added, “The world after COVID-19 will be a challenging one. We anticipate a major restructuring of global supply chains under very trying conditions. And we’ll need to leverage all the know-how, infrastructure and institutional ecosystem in order to remain competitive. These challenges come with its own set of opportunities and we will be there from day one of the recovery, ready to take our place among the most complex, talent-driven, productive platforms in the world.”