Tucson group going south to promote trade with Mexico

By Mariana Alvarado and Tim Steller


January 2, 2011

A group of local business owners is planning to travel to Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregón, Sonora to promote cross-border commerce and get the word out to Tucsonans that they can travel safely south of the border.

It’s the latest effort to ensure the business relationships between Arizona and Sonora continue, despite deteriorated political ties. Caballeros del Sol, a nonprofit organization of Tucson-area businessmen, will meet in March with Sonoran businesspeople and Obregón’s mayor, Manuel Barro. Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup will join the three-day trip, March 24-27, said Bob Webb, a Caballeros del Sol member.

“What we are trying to do is to show by example that we are going down there. We are making business down there, we are not sitting and shaking in our house,” Webb said.

Business relationships have remained strong despite estrangement between Arizona and Sonora caused by illegal immigration and drug-war violence, said Mike Hammond, president of Tucson-based PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services. (See related story, Page A1.)

That point is bolstered by border-crossing data from Nogales, the principal port of entry between the two states. While pedestrian and passenger-car crossings have declined sharply in recent years, commercial-vehicle crossings rose by about 18 percent from 2005 to 2010, according to preliminary figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“There’s a lot of money to be made for people who understand this is a short-term issue,” Hammond said. “In the long term, we’re going to have more rather than less interactions between the United States and Mexico.”

For many people, the primary “short-term issue” is drug-war violence in Mexico. Although none of the Caballeros del Sol members’ business has been affected by drug violence, Webb said, the members are afraid that constant news media coverage of violence could damage the economic relations between Arizona and Sonora.

It is true that drug violence has increased in some Mexican border cities such as Ciudad Juárez, said Webb, but he said it’s not the case for Sonoran destinations such as Hermosillo and San Carlos.

“I don’t think (crime) is any worse than going to San Diego, for example,” he said. “If you are going down there (Sonora) legitimately to shop and to vacation, and you do those things, fine. If you go down there looking to buy marijuana or do those kind of things, you are going to have a problem.”

While violence has not been a significant problem for doing business in Sonora, news of it can still affect the level of business activity, Hammond said.

“What we don’t know is how it’s affecting decision-making outside our area,” he said. “I think if there’s damage, it’s probably in the boardrooms in Chicago where they’re saying ‘We were thinking of expanding in Mexico, but we better hold off.’ ”

The other short-term issue has been tensions arising from the enactment of SB 1070, Arizona’s new anti-illegal-immigration law. Webb said some businesspeople in Obregón have expressed concern about the new law. “We need to let them know that we (businessmen) didn’t make the law,” he said.

About 25 Tucson businessmen are confirmed for the trip and Caballeros del Sol is currently working with Tucson’s Sister Cities Committee on the trip, Webb said.

On their way to Obregón, Caballeros del Sol will stop in Hermosillo for a lunch with government officials and businessmen. In Obregón, they’ll have several meetings including a matchmaking session that the local chamber of commerce is already promoting.

And they’re not the only ones working to keep the cross-border business ties strong. The Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted a binational meeting in August to help keep commerce flowing, and that followed a similar meeting in Hermosillo.

Whether it was because of those efforts or ingrained habit, Sonoran shoppers flowed to Tucson in near-normal numbers during the Christmas-shopping season, retailers reported. That followed a sharp drop after SB 1070 was signed in April.

“We’ve been able to partner with Sonora and say, ‘OK, let’s leave SB 1070 to politicians,’ ” said Felipe Garcia, vice president of Mexico marketing at the convention and visitors bureau.

The Sonoran city of Magdalena de Kino has also been promoting itself as a safe tourist destination, said city official Raúl Millán.

“We’ve been working very hard on security issues,” he said in Spanish. “We’ve been able to reduce crime. That helps our visitors from Arizona to come and feel safe.”

Web registration for the Caballeros del Sol trip is ongoing and it’s open to other businesspeople who are not members of the group.

“This is not just one of these deals where we are going down, shaking hands, pat each other’s back. That stuff is fine, but we are trying really and truly to get some things going,” Webb said.

Join the trip

The cost of the Sonora trip with Caballeros del Sol is $500 each. For more information, go to www.caballerosdelsol.com. You may also contact Bob Webb at 520-940-4961 or [email protected], or contact Gary Welch at 520-444-1099 or at [email protected]

Contact reporter Mariana Alvarado at [email protected] or 573-4597.


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