Who says you can’t move mountains? Well, hills at least.
There once was a hill on a piece of land along the Arizona-Mexico border in Nogales.
The cost of leveling that hill for commercial development was prohibitive to the landowner.
On the adjacent land, there were many holes, ditches and gullies that prevented that landowner — the federal government — from being able to expand the port of entry between the two countries.
When officials from the Greater Nogales-Santa Cruz County Port Authority brought the situation to the attention of hill’s owner, Dave Parker, the fourth-generation Arizona cattle rancher didn’t hesitate to donate his hill for the cause.
“They cut down my mountain and used the dirt to expand the port, and I didn’t charge them because they leveled the ground on my land,” Parker said. “It gave me an opportunity to give back to the community, and I got my flat land.”
Parker said he was waiting for the economy in Nogales to come back to life before spending the money to grade the land, to attract warehouse or distribution investors. He purchased the land 30 years ago as an investment.
“I figured it would be worth something someday,” he said.
That day has arrived in Nogales, where there are no vacancies in warehouses.
The anticipation of the fall opening of the expanded Mariposa Port of Entry is fueling hope of revitalizing Nogales with more trade rolling through from Mexico and more people going to work in distribution and logistics jobs.
The connection between the federal government and the rancher is one example of how the Greater Nogales-Santa Cruz County Port Authority works as advocates for the region, said Terry Shannon Jr., a founder of the port authority.
As Arizona oldest port authority, the Santa Cruz group — founded in 2004 — has become a mentor to other counties that are setting up similar groups to coordinate efforts and capitalize on the growing trade activity through Arizona’s ports of entry.
Port Director Guadalupe Ramirez said the Santa Cruz port authority was a critical advocate for getting the Mariposa Port of Entry expanded and then getting the federal government to increase staffing of officers in Nogales.
Earlier this year, officials announced that the Nogales ports would get an additional 120 officers to staff the entry lanes.
“That momentum started in this community,” Ramirez said.
Across the city, construction of massive warehouses is underway.
From refrigerated storage for produce to distribution centers for electronics and airplane parts, investors are setting up shop on razed hilltops.
Since 2010, the value of trade goods through the Mariposa Port of Entry has grown from about $25 billion to nearly $35 billion, said Bruce Bracker, chairman of the port authority.
“The growth in the dollar value of trade can be attributed to continued growth in high-value goods crossing the border in various sectors, such as automotive, mining and aerospace industries,” said Hector Suarez, incoming President of the Nogales Customs Brokers Association.
The Mariposa port is currently processing more than 311,000 commercial trucks a year, figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show.
And it’s operating as one of the fastest ports on the southern border with commercial wait times at under an hour.
The third- and fourth-generation trade experts in Santa Cruz County say they are encouraged to see the rest of Arizona focusing on the importance of trade with Mexico.
“We in the economic development community in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, support the state’s engagement in this process,” said Nils Urman, of the Nogales Community Development and a board member of the port authority.
“We are encouraged (the state) recognizes the importance of U.S.-Mexico trade in border communities. The state’s engagement is important, just as it is at the national levels in the state of Sonora, U.S. and the international trade community.”
The grand opening of the Mariposa Port of Entry is scheduled for October.