Visit, invest in Sonora, its governor urges

By: Ernesto Portillo, Jr.

The Mexican state of Sonora wants to do more business with Arizona, said Gov. Guillermo Padrés Elías, saying American investments will receive a strong and safe return.

In his first official visit to Tucson since taking office two years ago, Padrés told an audience of business and political leaders Thursday that Sonora’s economy grew 7 percent last year and is expected to grow 5 percent this year, making the neighboring state a logical place to invest.

The governor made little mention of the narco-violence in Mexico, stating only that Sonora is the safest of the four Mexican states bordering the United States. And he made no comments regarding Arizona’s legislative mandates to curb illegal immigration, which have been attacked in Sonora, prompting calls for Sonoran visitors to boycott the state.

Padrés’ singular message was that Sonora is a great place to visit and invest.

“We want to do more business between Sonora and Arizona,” said the governor in English at the Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.

The state of Sonora and the Mexican government are investing millions of pesos into the state’s infrastructure, making it more appealing for private investments, Padrés told the group, which included outgoing Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, Mayor-elect Jonathan Rothschild and businessman Don Diamond.

The Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored the event, the fourth in a series of cross-border meetings between business and government representatives, said J. Felipe Garcia, the bureau’s vice president of community affairs and Mexico marketing.

In brief remarks, Padrés outlined the economic investment opportunities for Arizona businesses.

Sonora has launched an ambitious expansion of its water distribution network with the building of new dams and aqueducts in and around the capital city of Hermosillo. In addition, the state is building water treatment plants and in the port of Guaymas, a desalinization plant, he said.

Likewise, both Sonora and the federal government are upgrading Mexican Highway 15 – the principal north-south route from Nogales to the Mexican interior – and ancillary roads in the main cities of Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregón and Guaymas.

The state has remodeled about 600 of its more than 2,000 public schools and plans to improve others, in addition to increasing technical and professional education programs in the state’s colleges.

At the luncheon, representatives from Tucson and the state’s college system signed a cooperative agreement that will allow more Sonoran university students to study tourism and international commerce in Tucson.

“It is an expression of good will and it helps open the doors for Arizona students to study in Sonora,” said Francisco Marmolejo, executive director of the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration, based at the University of Arizona.

In making the case for increased Arizona-Sonora trade, Mike Hammond, who specializes in industrial and commercial real estate in Southern Arizona and Sonora, said the long-term trends in Sonora are positive.

“Mexico, and particularly Sonora, are doing very well,” said Hammond, president of Picor, a Tucson commercial real estate company.

A new trend is developing, he added. Mexican businesses are looking to open operations in Arizona.

The two states are inseparable, Hammond said.

That’s a theme Padrés struck. Because of shared history, culture and family ties between Sonora and Arizona, “I can’t imagine Sonora without Arizona,” said Padrés.

Economically the two states are dependent on each other.

According to a UA study, more than 24 million legal visitors from Mexico visited Arizona between July 2007 and June 2008, with 99 percent of them from Sonora. Mexican tourists spent almost $2.7 billion in that year, more than double the estimated spending in 2001, said the 2010 Eller College of Management study.

To improve the flow of Mexican products into Arizona, the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales will double its capacity by early next year, said Armando Goncalvez of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Padrés said despite political and social divisions between the two states, Arizona and Sonora remain a common region, bound by tradition and generations of relationships. The issues can be resolved, he added.

“We cannot ignore the border. We cannot wipe it off the map,” he said.

“I can’t imagine Sonora without Arizona.”

Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padrés Elías

Did you know?

The port of Guaymas on the Sea of Cortez is the Sonoran-Arizona seaport. Before the railroad came to Tucson in the 1880s, the bulk of merchandise bound for Tucson and Southern Arizona moved through Guaymas. Today the Mexican government is expanding the port to receive cruise ships. There also are plans to build a cruise-ship port in Rocky Point, where the expanded airport has increased domestic flights and is eyeing international flights.

Ernesto Portillo Jr. can be reached at [email protected] or 573-4187.

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