EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The El Paso region can boost trade and cash in on reshoring of manufacturing from Asia, but it needs to modernize its ports of entry, improve transportation systems and tackle poverty, says a new report from New Mexico State University.

NMSU’s Arrowhead Center produced the “Border Task Force Report for the Paso del Norte Region” in response to efforts by U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Chihuahua Gov. Maru Campos to zero in on economic development opportunities.

The report states how the COVID-19 pandemic bared how vulnerable U.S. industry is with many of its suppliers being in Asia. Also, labor costs in China are increasing faster than they are, say, in Mexico – where U.S. companies have some subsidiaries and factories where production could increase, and parts or manufactured goods reach the American consumer faster.

That puts border cities like El Paso, Texas, and its neighbor to the south, Juarez, Mexico, and the state of New Mexico in a position to fill that role. But manufacturing, especially high-tech manufacturing, requires a large skilled labor force, hence the need to combat poverty and raise education levels in the region.

“Binational infrastructure is really important, but we still have to address poverty,” Escobar said. “Local governments struggle to provide for our colonias (substandard neighborhoods) and I think that should be a federal obligation. We will continue to provide for those families.”

Money is already in the pipeline for two of the region’s busiest ports of entry from Mexico: Ysleta and Bridge of the Americas, she said. On the New Mexico side of the region, the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, which connects industrial parks in Mexico and the United States that are no more than a few miles apart, has been approved a feasibility study for future expansion.

The Paso del Norte Region’s most urgent infrastructure needs. (Graphic courtesy Border Task Force)

Santa Teresa’s growth, however, could bring challenges such as bottlenecks, increased water delivery for industry, the need for wastewater treatment plants and modifications to highways that lead trucks to highways, the report states. Its airport also would benefit from expansion.

Juarez is the final piece of the puzzle and represents both challenges and opportunities. The city is home to 300-plus factories that assemble parts or goods for export and employ 300,000 individuals experienced in putting together components for everything from car parts to computer boards to medical machines to helicopter parts.

But Juarez has experienced bottlenecks and its commercial trucks need expanded avenues to travel to the ports of entry, which also lag behind in technology.

The report concludes that more marketing and easier cross-border travel would go a long way toward the region achieving economic development goals.

“Enhancing ease of travel across borders and reimagining shared binational spaces would bring the binational communities of the Paso del Norte region closer together, unlock significant economic value, and encourage collaboration, innovation, commerce, tourism, and community-building,” it states. “It is important to think of Paso del Norte as a single region competing globally with other regions for industry.”