Strong Ties to Sonora a Boon

Nov. 23, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

When Arizonans think of the states next door, they usually forget to look south. But the state of Sonora, Mexico, is a major partner on a wide range of issues, from trade to water. There’s huge potential here, if we just take advantage of it.

Sonora’s governor, Guillermo Padres Elias, was recently in Arizona to promote investment opportunities in Sonora for Arizona businesses. His sales pitch included improved roads, a commitment to education and the healthy growth rate of Sonora’s economy — almost 7 percent last year, with 5 percent expected this year.

That’s all encouraging news for Arizona, which benefits from a strong neighbor. Expanded employment opportunities reduce the pressure to emigrate, Padres pointed out in a meeting with The Republic Editorial Board. And good jobs in Mexico create consumers for us.

More than 23,000 jobs in Arizona were directly attributable to spending by Mexican visitors in fiscal 2008, according to an analysis by Alberta Charney and Lora Mwaniki-Lyman of the University of Arizona. In Santa Cruz County, those purchases accounted for nearly half of all taxable sales.

Padres has taken strong steps to improve education in Sonora, including repairing schools and providing free school uniforms (made locally in another job-building move). He’s pushing parental involvement, a familiar theme and challenge here.

For the tourism trade, Padres holds out an intriguing possibility: building a port that can handle cruise ships in Rocky Point. There’s still the dream of establishing an Arizona rail connection to handle freight from the port of Guaymas.

Senate Bill 1070 threatened to tear apart relations between Sonora and Arizona, but Padres sees the wisdom of moving beyond the controversy. These days, he has good relations with Brewer, whose inauguration he attended in January.

“I told Governor Brewer we have a lot in common,” he said, despite disagreeing with her over the bill. He praised her response when he called for help with fires in Mexico.

Together, the two governors can help forge a regional vision that benefits both sides of the border.

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