Apr 15, 2021 - Economy

Booming border town grew even more during COVID-19

A cowboys works at a cattle crossing in Santa Teresa, N.M. along the U.S-Mexico border.

A cowboy works at an international cattle crossing in Santa Teresa, N.M., along the U.S.-Mexico border. PHOTO: Russell Contreras/Axios.

A border town in New Mexico saw record cargo crossings last year and is thriving despite the fallout from the pandemic and increased migration from Central America.

Why it matters: The explosive growth of Santa Teresa, N.M. shows how international trade demand remains strong at the U.S.-Mexico border even as retail businesses in border cities have struggled because of COVID-19.

Between the lines: The small Santa Teresa Port of Entry is in need of major renovations to keep up with demand.

  • That puts it at the intersection of two major Biden administration efforts: to pass more than $2 trillion nationally in infrastructure spending, and to contain a migration surge at the border.
  • Periodic jumps in migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. divert needed border personnel from Santa Teresa, slowing traffic and affecting the industrial area's production.
  • "What happens to us is that you now have to take a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer that's clearing cargo and merchandise off the line to process those asylum seekers," Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association, tells Axios.

By the numbers: Santa Teresa's industrial base of 6,000 workers now accounts for 60% of New Mexico's total global exports, surpassing Albuquerque, a city of 560,000 people, according to state data,

  • Exports include steel coil, livestock, electronic parts, textiles for car seatings, and other materials.
  • The industrial enclave just west of El Paso, Texas, experienced a slowdown at the beginning of the pandemic — but by last July, Santa Teresa was seeing unparalleled levels of truck traffic coming from south of the border. The record jump highlights its connection to high-demand products like wind turbine blades built in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
  • Santa Teresa is developing a million square feet of new industrial space, said Pacheco, whose nonprofit runs the industrial park. He said that he recently recruited three Taiwanese companies and expects to announce new international companies later this year.
  • Across the border in San Jerónimo, Mexico, a growing Foxconn plant manufactures Dell products for the U.S. market — and a factory opened recently that makes gummy candy.

How it works: The Santa Teresa industrial park was created in the late 1980s and remains unincorporated. The Border Industrial Association operates as a quasi-municipal government made up of business leaders.

  • The Santa Teresa Port of Entry operates daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is less busy than crowded ports of entry in El Paso and other parts of Texas.
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