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Hull wants deeper ties to Mexico

Bill Hess - Sierra Vista Herald

DOUGLAS - Economic development in Mexico is important to Arizona's future and that of the United States, said Arizona's Gov. Jane Hull.

As a border state, Arizona has direct ties with Mexico, especially with the Mexican state of Sonora, she said Tuesday. Sitting next to her at a press conference at Douglas High School was her Sonoran counterpart, Gov. Armando Lopez Nogales.

For Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, the connection between his border community and that of its larger border neighbor, the Sonoran city of Agua Prieta, as well as the entire state of Sonora, is critical to the Arizona city's survival. "We're a city of survival and we depend on the (economic) health of the state of Sonora," he said. Also present at the press conference was Borane's long-time friend and former mayor of Agua Prieta Vicente Teran Uribe, who is now a member of the Sonoran state legislature.

Hull spent about five hours in Douglas taking part in some of the city's centennial celebrations. Her trip included a visit to some schools in the city where she was interested in how the community uses access to the Internet, especially for programs to help students.

She was told that Internet capabilities were still lacking and that unless more emphasis was given to rural areas in Arizona, Douglas schools will be behind in providing Internet capabilities for students.

Later in the day, at a meeting of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, Hull said the state intends to spend $100 million in providing high-tech systems, to include Internet access.

"Every school in Arizona needs connection to the Internet," she said.

The governor also added Internet capability will be important for theDouglas business community. Her main emphasis was to ensure Arizona's connection to Mexico becomes stronger.

Hull noted that Agua Prieta is the sister city of Douglas and Sonora is Arizona's sister state and those connections show how important the economic connection for the border area has become.

She took more time to outline her concerns of keeping the economic highway between Arizona and Mexico open during a speech before the Arizona-Mexico Commission in the afternoon.

Due to Mexican citizens shopping in Arizona the state realizes $3 billion a year in income. It's critical to open more of the state's markets to the people and businesses in Mexico, she said.

"We must respond more proactively with globalization," Hull said. "We are in the big league now."

Unfortunately while there still is big business, as far as financial gains are concerned, Arizona is loosing some of its clout to other border states, particularly California and Texas, the governor said.

Some communities along the border in Arizona and Sonora have "double digit unemployment rates," taking the glow out of some of the plusses, Hull said.

Although government bodies in both Arizona and Sonora have to provide programs to keep both economies healthy "we can't shoulder the entire burden," she said, adding there needs to be more involvement by the private business community.

The North American Free Trade Agreement's economic programs are doing better and Arizona is working to ensure it becomes a major route from Mexico to Canada, the governor said. Borane said he was told by the Sonoran governor that a highway connecting Nogales with Agua Prieta is almost complete and that will mean more truck traffic will divert to the U.S. Custom Service's Douglas Port of Entry reducing the bottleneck currently being experienced at Nogales.

Borane believes his community has to take advantage of all economic possibilities flowing north out of Mexico.

For years, the economic engine for Douglas was Phelps Dodge and when the smelter closed it became tourism but now with so much illegal immigrant problems along the border, especially coming through Douglas the community has to find new financial avenues for the city to survive, Borane said. Hull, like Borane, is a supporter of changing the guest worker program to allow more Mexican citizens to enter the United States to work.

However, she said Mexican President Vicente Fox's proposal of an open border, without any constraints, will not happen. What is positive is that both President George W. Bush and Fox have a personal relationship which will help the border states and she wants to make sure Arizona is poised to take advantage of the relationship of the two presidents. "We will not be left behind," Hull said.

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