Margie and Carlos Emmermann left a meaningful impact from their long-time involvement in the Arizona-Mexico Commission before retiring recently. Margie served as the AMC executive director and as policy advisor for Mexico and Latin America for the Office of the Governor. Carlos served as co-chair for the AMC under five consecutive governors. The Emmermanns sat down with Chamber Business News to discuss the importance of the organization, its success over the last 60 years and their favorite memories from their work with the AMC.
Question: What is your professional background?
Margie: I’ve kind of done a lot of things in my background from telecommunications to banking to government. But, a lot of it in marketing and public relations and communications.
Carlos: I am now retired after many years in international banking. My career began in New York City in 1972, came to Arizona in 1979 to work for the Arizona bank and later Bank One of Arizona. I have been in the manager division for both institutions responsible for all international banking services and cross-border lending to Mexico.
Q: Margie, what was your role with the Arizona-Mexico Commission?
Margie: I had a dual role. I was both the executive director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission and then policy advisor for Mexico and Latin America for the Office of the Governor. So, I sort of oversaw all of the work that was being done in Mexico and Latin America, predominantly Mexico.
Q: Carlos, what was your involvement with the Arizona-Mexico Commission?
Carlos: I had several roles in the commission over time. I first started out as a committee member and then I was asked to serve as a backup committee chairperson until formally named, in 1993, the co-chair. Which I’ve acted in that capacity under five consecutive governors until my retirement last year.
Q: Why do you think the work the Arizona-Mexico Commission does is important for Arizona?
Margie: Arizona is a border state, we share a border with this huge country of Mexico. And, any time that you have that scenario, to know the people that you are interacting with almost on a daily basis and to be able to understand their needs and how they interact and play with our needs is just critically important.
Carlos: I find the Arizona-Mexico Commission to be a unique organization in that it facilitates the understanding of cross-border culture, helps build relationships and fosters dialogue. In that capacity, I see the Arizona-Mexico Commission as a catalyst for economic growth in our state.
Q: Why is it important for Arizona to focus on maintaining and continuously building a relationship with Mexico?
Margie: There’s economic reasons, there’s cultural reasons, there’s educational reasons, there are just a whole host of reasons. Dollars and cents, it makes sense. Especially after the passage of NAFTA, we have a huge economic reason to do it. And, we have a lot of people that live here but have ties to Mexico. And, a lot of people that are coming to Arizona, they spend a lot of money. I mean, when you look at the dynamic of the relationship and you look at people crossing the border back and forth all day long, and then you look at some of us that have roots in Mexico and live here. It’s just really important that we understand that bilateral, cross-cultural relationship and try to maximize the opportunity and facilitate it and make it as seamless and as easy as possible.
Carlos: I see it from an angle that Arizona and Mexico will forever be neighbors. As an international banker, I found in the Arizona-Mexico Commission a perfect venue for me to expand my knowledge of Mexico, help build relationships with decision-making individuals on both sides of the border and help identify and establish that were very useful in my business.
Q: The Arizona-Mexico Commission is celebrating its 60th anniversary. What has been its biggest achievement in the last 60 years?
Margie: The Arizona-Mexico Commission- when you really look at what it is- it is a membership organization that happens to be housed in the Office of the Governor, led by the governor of the state of Arizona and interacts with counterparts in Mexico. How can you ask for a better scenario to really get grassroots information so that people that are in an ability to impact change can know what needs to be changed? So, I think some of the most important things that the commission has worked on and that have happened, are the things that people that live the life on a daily basis have needed to have happen. Let me give you a couple of examples. There was a time when people in Mexico- that we depend on for daily cross-border trade that shop in our malls, that come in and see doctors, that spend money here- used to have what was called a border-crossing card. But, those border-crossing cards were outdated, and the federal government needed to have them changed. They had pictures of themselves as babies. So, from the federal government’s perspective, it was hard for them to know, ‘Is that the right person?’ So, the Arizona-Mexico Commission took up- and all those cards were going to have to be changed and it was going to be really difficult. The Arizona-Mexico Commission took on an initiative to say, ‘OK. If that’s going to be done, let us help educate the federal government in Mexico that we need a consulate in Nogales to help some of that happen.’ So, [a] consulate in Nogales was established. There were times when people were crossing the border at Rocky Point and the hours of crossing at Rocky Point didn’t coincide with huge holidays and things. And so, people were in line crossing the border to come back to Arizona after the holidays and the border was closed and they were in line having to spend the night [with] no facilities. And, there was a lot of issues with border-crossing. So, grassroots information came to the Arizona-Mexico Commission through committees and we were able to educate people to impact change. So, I think the most important and the greatest things the commission has done is impact change to help the lives of everyday people so that their lives can be easier on a daily basis.
Carlos: The six decades of successfully promoting goodwill and building relationships I think in itself is a remarkable achievement for the commission.
Q: What should the Arizona-Mexico Commission focus on in 2019?
Margie: The AMC should continue doing exactly what it does: facilitating trade, facilitating relationships, facilitating this cross-border world that the AMC lives in. I mean it has been a success, it has been tried to be replicated elsewhere because we’ve had so much success. We need goodwill with our neighbors, we need goodwill with Mexico and the AMC has just done a phenomenal job of that. And so, I think that the success of the past 60 years needs to be projected into the future accommodating for what is relevant today… The model that the commission was established under- if we’re going to be neighbors, let’s be good neighbors. That still is so important today that it needs to be carried forward into the future.
Carlos: I believe the commission has done a remarkable job in creating goodwill and assisting its members, which consist of both public and private sector in Arizona, of getting to know Mexico better, the business environment, et cetera. I think they need to continue building [and] cultivating that relationship or risk losing opportunities to competition.
Q: What is your favorite memory with Arizona-Mexico Commission?
Margie: My favorite memories have just been how we’ve interacted with new people, new agency directors, new governors that have come in and really had to almost educate them on the value of Mexico because not every agency director and not every governor has understood that. And, just that amazement of becoming friends with their counterparts, understanding how valuable this relationship is, and seeing their passion, seeing how the difference between when they arrived and when they left their roles in government. That sense of, ‘Wow. What an amazing opportunity for Arizona to be friends with Mexico, to deal with Mexico and the change in their outlook.’ I think those are some of my fondest memories is that transitional change in attitude and that’s, I think, one of the things that the commission does such a good job of. [The commission] is taking people that don’t know Mexico, having them learn to appreciate the value and having them become almost, you know, champions for the value of the relationship.
Carlos: Well, after nearly four decades of involvement, I have to be honest and say I have many beautiful memories of the commission. But, I have to say that probably what I loved the most was assisting the plenary sessions where I saw friends [interacting] with clients. I saw business colleagues and also enjoyed working very closely with our Sonoran counterparts.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Margie: It has been such an honor and such an amazing opportunity to be involved with the Arizona-Mexico Commission. I was on the board first- [the] Governor appointed me to the board before I became involved from a state government perspective. Mine hasn’t been nearly as long as Carlos, mine has only been 27 years. But, it has been 27 glorious years that I have been involved. I just wish that a lot more people could understand the value and become involved. The relationships that you build, the long-time friendships are just really, really something that I wish more people had the opportunity to experience.
Carlos: I just want to say ‘Happy 60th anniversary’ to the Arizona-Mexico Commission. And, to the board and the staff, ‘Thank you and congratulations for a job very well done.’