Change plagues borderplex

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By Harold Morgan

El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and Las Cruces are a region, one entity. The assertion grasps the remarkably obvious. Businesses in southern Doña Ana County and Juárez back up to one another. The Rio Grande, the nominal border between El Paso and Juárez, is often dry, posing little real barrier. Otero County and Alamogordo might be added with El Paso being the closest thing of size.

The region is complicated. Northern New Mexico, commonly clueless about the south, might not understand this. To say the region consists of three states (Chihuahua, Texas and New Mexico) and two countries (Mexico and the United States) oversimplifies. There are counties and municipalities, water districts and basins and who knows what else.

For a long time the region had an informal order, a result, I believe, of people adapting to do what is needed. The border area was more like itself than either country. The functional informality came under severe strain starting with the drug war of the 1990s and accelerating with the immigration paranoia after 9/11. 

More recent disruption has been positive. The Fox-Conn plant just into Mexico from Santa Teresa sends 55,000 Dell computers into the United States each day. The new Union Pacific railyard, under construction a few miles northwest of Santa Teresa, attracts support businesses well before opening. A recent Wall Street Journal report put the railyard construction price at $3.6 billion. UP said $400 million.

In an analysis of El Paso’s development efforts released in late 2011, the consultant, Edward Feser, was direct: “Greater El Paso’s current economic development effort is compromising the region’s prospects for improved levels of prosperity and quality of life… the region currently stands at a debilitating impasse.”

The disruptions may have pushed—just speculating here—community leaders, including local mogul Woody Hunt, to create a high-level organization to deal with regional needs as a region. Whatever the motivation, El Paso’s two development organizations merged effective Jan. 1. The Paso del Norte Group, founded by Bill Sanders, another local mogul, has been a policy organization. The other organization is the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation, the business recruiter. The new baby is the Borderplex Bi-National Economic Alliance. 

The Alliance has hired a CEO, Rolando Pablos, with a résumé that starts with his birth and childhood in Juárez, his adolescence in El Paso, and becoming a business lawyer in San Antonio and member of sundry commissions. Pablos and the Alliance say little these days. I know. I asked for an interview and got no response. Surely Pablos as a public figure knows better. 

Pablos responded, “Just like we need to make the region attractive, we need to make this new organization attractive. The way we make this organization attractive is by having a very detailed, solid strategic plan that shows everyone we are serious about coming together and promoting the region to the world. I don’t think there’s ever been a true regional strategic plan that has resonated across the board, and this one will.” 

Other challenges loom. 

Why might Pablos’ background in law, politics and policy make him the right guy for the complex region? 

Competition exists within the region. How can the regional umbrella accommodate the inevitable competition? What are, or will be, the elements of the “very detailed strategic plan” mentioned to El Paso Inc.?

How will the national rail boom and the Union Pacific project affect the region?

The envelope, please.