GUAYMAS, Sonora - Sonora beef, cotton and textiles are headed to Shanghai and Hong Kong this weekend from the once-sleepy shrimp port in this northern Mexico state.
On Friday, the Port of Guaymas got its long-awaited part in the global-trade game when it received its first shipment of container cargo.
In partnership with Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Guaymas became an outlet for imports and exports from Sonora and - via Arizona - U.S. markets.
The massive containers that float on vessels around the world will now make a stop in Guaymas to deliver durable goods to the U.S. and Mexico and will load U.S. and Mexican exports for global distribution.
Alejandro Chacón Dominguez, Mexico's general port director, oversees the country's 16 seaports and spoke about the Guaymas port's impact on Arizona.
"For Arizona, which views us as its port, we are now their avenue to the world," he said.
"You have almost one port for every day of the year," Chacón said, referring to the 341 ports worldwide reached by MSC, the second-largest container carrier in the world.
Cargo shipped out of Guaymas can be destined for 145 countries in five continents, MSC officials said.
Positive impact on Tucson
Southern Arizona has long viewed the Port of Guaymas, about 260 miles south of the Arizona border, as its potential seaport mate.
Industry leaders have been researching ways to streamline the entry of shipping containers into the United States through the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales.
The rail line between Guaymas and the Arizona border can support double-stacked containers because there are no bridges or tunnels on the route, officials note.
And with U.S.-approved security measures in Guaymas and then clearing the X-ray machine at the U.S. port of entry, the freight could move along to Tucson for further shipment inspection and avoid congestion at the border.
A recent poll conducted by Southern Arizona Logistics Education Organization asked business folks in the Tucson area which Sonoran city they would like to see have a direct flight with Tucson.
While some assumed the top choice would be the capital city of Hermosillo, it was Guaymas that got the overwhelming number of votes.
A growing number of companies operate in industrial parks in Guaymas and neighboring Empalme, where everything from airplane parts to air-conditioning units are manufactured.
Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. said the arrival of the containers "will have a positive impact on the Tucson economy in the next few years.
"The movement of these containers from a deep-water port puts us in the position to receive and redistribute these goods to the U.S. market thus strengthening our position as a logistics center," he said. "It is critical that we capitalize on this opportunity by making the necessary infrastructure investments to ensure these goods flow through Southern Arizona. This is very encouraging news."
Nearly 10,000 port workers
The Port of Guaymas today is a much different operation from when Port Director Jose Luis Castro Ibarra took over in 2006.
At the time, Guaymas was ranked 14th out of the 16 seaports in Mexico in terms of productivity.
In 2011, Guaymas rose to sixth.
The addition of commercial business, such as grain and ore, kick-started the port's reputation.
Then federal officials authorized the dragging of the seafloor near the port to make it nearly 20 feet deeper to accommodate the first passenger cruise ship.
The work was completed in a record 14 months and companies such as MSC - which began operating at Mexican ports in 1998 - realized Guaymas meant business, Castro said.
Employment has grown six-fold to nearly 10,000 current port workers, Castro said.
Goods that depart from Guaymas can reach Shanghai in 23 days, Hong Kong in 27.
After dropping off his boss, Chacón, at the airport Castro relaxed for a brief moment in his SUV.
Asked to reflect on the past six years and what could be next for the Port of Guaymas, Castro smiled and replied.
"I have a very good feeling."
Contact Gabriela Rico at email@example.com or 573-4232.