A presidential task force recently named Nogales one of only four Southwest Border Pilot Communities.
A coordinated approach to finding resources within existing budgets to direct to border communities by the President's Southwest Border Task Force, the program will sponsor 16 new programs along the U.S.-Mexico border, four in each pilot community.
Nogales will spend the money (an as yet unspecified amount from various federal, state, and local agencies) attempting to solve the four most common rural border town problems: bad roads, out-dated infrastructure, a lack of access to education, and polluted ground water.
Locally that means new North/South-East-West interconnectors, port of entry expansion, an international wastewater treatment plant, and a Nogales Skills Center.
That Nogales' wish list concentrates on essentials that most Americans take for granted is precisely the point, according to Dianna Jennings, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office, an agency helping to administer the pilot program.
"Border communities are different because their needs are so basic. The things that we do in border communities are so desperately needed that you just can't imagine people can function without having these kinds of services," she said. "Everybody is always saying this is the greatest span of prosperity we have had; well, tell that to people on the border."
It was that same argument President Clinton used in 1999 when he signed the executive order (EO 13122) creating the Interagency Task Force on the Economic Development of the Southwest Border, designed to ". . . increase the living standards and the overall economic profile of the Southwest Border so that it may achieve the average of the nation."
The creation of that agency, perhaps the Clinton administrations strongest nod toward the region, opened the way for the interagency cooperation that resulted in the Border Community Pilot Program.
While Nogales does lag behind the national average in most key economic indicators n a fact of life in most Southwest border communities n most analysts agree that it has future economic development potential: it is the largest port of entry for produce in the nation, and it is considered an important stop on the proposed CANAMEX Corridor.
"There were 39 communities that applied (to be part of the pilot program) and I think Nogales has had a lot of success of late. They have done a pretty good job of identifying what kinds of issues they want to address," Jennings said. "I think that is what they were looking for: a place where there will be some success for the program."
Nogales'out-going mayor, Cesar Rios, said that, despite all that latent potential in Nogales, its greatest needs are, at this point, basic.
"Education is something that Nogales needs badly; the high school graduates all leave town n my own children left Nogales," he said. "One of the things that industry usually requires is adequate staffing that is educated and can take do all the different jobs within a company n and we are at a great disadvantage right now because of the fact that the salaries in Nogales, Sonora, are so much lower so they (potential companies)
always want to go there first."
The three other pilot communities are Deming, N.M., Imperial County, Calif., and the FUTURO communities in Texas.