The Arizona-Sonora Region—An Economic Powerhouse

The Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) and the Comisión Sonora-Arizona (CSA) have been the prime stewards of Arizona Governor Paul Fannin’s vision for an enduring partnership of cross-border cooperation and collaboration between Arizona and Sonora. The relationship that has emerged is unique and is a model for transborder cooperation worldwide.

With that spirit of cross-border cooperation in mind, in 1992 a group of Tucson business leaders asked the University of Arizona (UA) to assess the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Arizona and to explore ways that Southern Arizona could prosper within the emerging North American economy. In response, the Organization for Free Trade and Development (OFTD) was founded to guide this effort led by former Congressman Jim Kolbe. The effort sparked statewide attention and eventually, Arizona State University (ASU) and the Morrison Institute joined forces with the UA to develop a statewide NAFTA initiative, organizing two statewide summit meetings with participation from key stakeholders.

Two initiatives emerged. The first was the creation of the Summit Six, a coalition led by the AMC to coordinate statewide NAFTA efforts. The second initiative was the outline of a strategic plan focused on initiatives that would have a lasting impact on the region.

A group of researchers from eight higher education institutions in Arizona and Sonora formed the University Consortium to develop this plan through a series of studies examining the economic dynamics of the region. What resulted was a list of proposed projects designed to advance the development of Arizona and Sonora as a binational region.

With the support of Governors Symington and Beltrones, AMC and CSA began implementing the Arizona-Sonora Strategic Economic Vision, with three key principles: (1) building on the long-standing ties and relationships between Arizona and Sonora, (2) taking advantage of the region’s strategic geographic location along major trade corridors in North American and (3) exploiting the complementarities among key industry clusters and institutions in the two states.

The Vision sparked game-changing results for Arizona that have transformed the Arizona-Mexico relationship, including:

CANAMEX Trade Corridor: The Arizona Department of Transportation spearheaded efforts to develop the CANAMEX Trade Corridor through the mountain west portion of North America. A key project under this initiative was the construction of a bridge across the Colorado River. The

Two Nation Destination: The Arizona and Sonora Offices of Tourism joined forces to market the region as an international tourism destination by promoting tourism assets in both states such as the Grand Canyon and beaches along the Sea of Cortez.

Kozolchyk National Law Center: The Center was established to harmonize banking and trade laws, regulations and practices among countries in North and South America.

Port of Entry Improvements: Major infrastructure improvements to Arizona’s ports of entry, supported by innovative process enhancements, have helped drive major increases in trade, including: the modernization of the Mariposa Port of Entry and the construction of San Luis II Port of Entry. Today, we look forward to the modernization of the San Luis I Port of Entry and expansion of SR-189 in Nogales, both critical to our trade growth.

Nogales Cyberport Study: The University Consortium recommended deploying leading-edge technology at the ports of entry, and early adoption by the Tucson Field Office of Customs and Border Protection has paved the way for Arizona to become a leader in the use of these technologies.

The Arizona-Sonora Strategic Economic Vision has withstood the test of time and its success is demonstrated in the dramatic increases in trade, business, tourism and innovation. Today, Governors Ducey and Pavlovich have reenergized the concept of the Vision and have set the region on a new, more ambitious path that will help position the region as an economic powerhouse in North America and beyond.

Gail Lewis is the Director of P3 initiatives and Senior Advisor for International Affairs at the Arizona Department of Transportation and Bruce Wright is an Arizona-Mexico Commission Board Member.

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