The largest private sector employer in Santa Cruz County is the produce industry. For more than 100 years, the Nogales port of entry was the major entry point for fresh produce from Mexico to the United States, but it recently lost that distinction to Hidalgo, Texas.

Arizona’s share of fresh produce imports declined from 44.7 percent in 2008 to 24 percent in 2018, according to “Arizona’s Trade and Competitiveness in the U.S.-Mexico Region,” a 2019 annual report published by the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. Transportation equipment exported to Mexico via Arizona ports decreased by 11.9 percent during 2018 while all other border states gained.

Also in 2018, personal vehicle crossings at Nogales were down 5.3 percent. Mexican shoppers crossing the border on a daily basis previously generated an estimated 60 percent or more of City of Nogales sales tax revenues and 47 percent of the county’s, according to the nogalesusa.com website maintained by the port authority, Nogales Community Development and the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Economic Development Foundation.

The decline in crossings is also causing high unemployment and higher taxes.

Industry, as well as 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, state, port authority, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, customs house brokers, the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and the Mexican Consulate. Were they all asleep at the wheel while the imports shifted to Texas?

The county and state recently earmarked monies for improvement, but this is too little, too late to recapture lost business and revenue. What if the county had built cold inspection 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?

The 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 Santa Cruz County.

(Crockett is a resident of Elgin and deputy chair of the Sonoita-Elgin Community Group.)

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