Why Arizona is winning with trade

Glenn Hamer

May 26, 2016

May is World Trade Month, which makes it a good a time as any to hail the positive moves Arizona is making to increase the state’s competitive standing on the global stage.


The rhetoric surrounding trade on the presidential campaign trail in 2016 has been mostly nonsense. Don’t listen to it. The truth is that trade means more economic growth for the U.S. and for Arizona. Now more than ever, Arizona is poised to win on trade. We’re expanding our freight capacity, we’re opening new travel routes with our largest trading partner, and our leaders are letting it be known that they view our position as a border state as a major positive.


On trade-facilitating infrastructure, Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature are stepping up to position Arizona to capture a bigger slice of the trade pie. For years, State Route 189, which doubles as Mariposa Rd., a major thoroughfare in Nogales, has been known for its congestion and bottlenecks, a dubious distinction since it’s the same road that connects the commercial port of entry to Interstate 19 and the many produce warehouses in the area.


The 2017 budget directs $25 million to SR 189 upgrades, which when combined with federal dollars, will help better realize the benefits of the recently completed major expansion at the port of entry and ensure that Nogales remains the nation’s leader in international produce trade.


Arizona is also racking up big wins in international travel, too, creating more options for travelers to access the rest of the globe. As I write this, I’m preparing to head to Sinaloa, Mexico on a trade mission sponsored by the Arizona-Mexico Commission. My outbound flight to Mexico is on American Airlines to Mazatlán. My homebound flight will be on Volaris Airlines’ inaugural flight from Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacán, to Phoenix.


Volaris’ growing presence in Arizona, combined with news that Tucson is on the verge of securing new air service to Guaymas is good news for travelers looking for more options to get to Mexico, while also opening new routes for Mexican tourists and business travelers to enjoy Arizona’s resorts, restaurants and retail offerings. These flights are in addition to American’s non-stop offerings to Mexico and Canada as well as Southwest’s one-stop options to Mexico.


Arizona is winning these new flights because our leaders are putting their collective best foot forward on international trade, especially with Mexico.


Gov. Ducey and the Legislature have ensured that our trade offices in Mexico City and Hermosillo are open for business. The governor meets regularly with his counterpart in Sonora, Gov. Claudia Pavlovich. Gov. Pavlovich recently threw out the first pitch at a Diamondbacks game. Such a gesture might not be State Department-level diplomacy, but it’s a small sign that we are friends and neighbors with common interests.


At a local level, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has been an absolute workhorse, leading over a dozen delegations to Mexico with business leaders and fellow mayors to cities throughout Mexico, including Mexico City, Guadalajara and Hermosillo. The mayor has been a superb ambassador for his city and the entire state’s trade agenda.


At a regional leadership level, the Maricopa Association of Governments is heading up efforts to expand the travel zone for Mexican nationals and make it easier for them to visit Arizona without requiring additional paperwork or fees. Kudos to MAG and its push to attract more Mexican travelers, who currently spend $7 million per day in Arizona.


And our business leaders are opening doors for legislators with our southern neighbors. Lea Márquez Peterson, the leader of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a network of Hispanic chambers across southern Arizona, just wrapped up a Sonora trip with three state lawmakers, where they visited a maquiladora and met with city officials and representatives of the U.S. consulate in Nogales.


The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also represented on the Sinaloa trip. Led by Gonzalo de la Melena, the AZHCC is not only one of the state’s leading advocates for Hispanic business, it manages the Phoenix Minority Business Development Agency Center, which among other things helps businesses break into the global market.  


All of this adds up to rising trade numbers for Arizona. Northbound commercial truck traffic was up 2.1 percent at Arizona ports in 2015. Passenger vehicles were up 4.5 percent. These gains don’t happen by accident. It takes a committed governor, mayors and business leaders focused on crafting policies that are pro-trade.


Trade in Arizona is supporting 100,000 jobs. It’s critical to our state’s economic growth. So the next time one of the presidential candidates starts to lecture on the evils of trade, hit the mute button. 

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry