The largest private sector employer in Santa Cruz County is the produce industry. For over 100 years, the Nogales port of entry was the major entry point for fresh produce from Mexico to the US, but recently lost that long time success to Hidalgo, Texas. Arizona’s share of fresh produce imports declined from 44.7% to 24.0%. Transportation equipment exported to Mexico via Arizona ports decreased by 11.9% while all other border states gained. Personal vehicle crossings at Nogales were down 5.3%. Mexican shoppers crossing the border daily previously generated over 60% of the Nogales sales tax and 47% of the county’s, but the decline in crossings is also diminishing County revenue, causing high unemployment and higher taxes.
Industry and elected officials see their share of imports rapidly declining because Texas ports of entry are better equipped, provide more efficient and time-saving inspection and reduce the cost of border crossing. County elected officials are major stakeholders in the international trade industry, along with the city of Nogales, the state, Port Authority, Customs and Border Patrol, Customs House Brokers, the Fresh Produce Association and the Mexican Consulate. Were they all asleep at the wheel while the imports shifted to Texas? Where was the plan for, and investment in, port infrastructure, modernization, lowering wait times and promoting the Nogales Port of Entry? The county and state recently earmarked monies for improvement, but this is too little too late to recapture lost business and revenue. What if Santa Cruz County had built cold inspections facilities several years ago instead of investing $46 million in a county detention center that failed to generate expected revenue from an increase in Federal detainees?
Santa Cruz County assumes a high risk by continuing to depend on a single economic sector. These declines must be offset by growth and sustainment. I expect our Supervisors and the County Manager to be proactive and less reactive. I expect them to manage this county by keeping focused on our top industries and growing a resilient economic base. I also expect them to make smart, informed decisions. Our County Supervisors and Manager must develop a strategic plan that will align spending with short and long term goals, develop partnerships with industry, government and community, and guide policy and regulation updates to support strategic goals. The Board of Supervisors and County Manager may “do” lots of things, but if they fail to produce accomplishments, then it’s time they change what they “do.” Failure to properly manage this county may be the end of SCC.
Kat Crockett is Deputy Chair, Sonoita-Elgin Community Group