Phoenix government and city leaders were in Mexico City last week for a trade mission. What were they after?
Mexican tourists and sports fans
The delegation to Mexico came down with a new promotional video that shows off the tourist sites in downtown Phoenix, narrated by a perky Spanish-speaker. It highlights the US Airways Arena, local sports, and nightlife spots like the Crescent Ballroom.
Both the Phoenix Suns NBA team and the Arizona Diamondbacks MLB team were represented on the trip, including former Diamondbacks player Luis Gonzalez. The team representatives networked with tourism package promoters about bringing Mexican tourists to games, and held a press conference with Mexican sports media.
Phoenix is also trying to boost the number of flights between Phoenix and Mexican cities.
But Mayor Greg Stanton also noted there are challenges to overcome -- tourism experts in Mexico told him the city is still losing tourism business to other markets because of Arizona's immigration enforcement law.
Mexican businesses and cross-border ties
Barry Broome of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council gave a presentation to a room full of Mexican business professionals about business opportunities in the Phoenix area.
City leaders have taken note of Mexico's fast-growing economy and increases in high-tech manufacturing, and want to leverage Phoenix's proximity to the border as an economic advantage for the city.
David Rousseau is president of Salt River Project and is also heading up plans for Glendale, Ariz. to host the Super Bowl in 2015. He is trying to get Mexico-based investment for the event.
Stanton said future trade missions will try to foster relationships between specific Phoenix-based companies and Mexican businesses.
Input into Mexico's expansion of the Guaymas port
The Phoenix delegation had a meeting with Mexico's new head of national ports under the President Enrique Peña Nieto administration, Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa. In that meeting, Ruiz de Teresa shared rough plans to expand the capacity of the port in Guaymas, Sonora on the Sea of Cortez. He explained it is part of a broader effort by the Mexican government to improve Mexican ports and compete with American ones.
Arizona's business community has long hoped that improvements at the Guaymas port could help increase the state's international trade.
Business interests in Phoenix want the expanded port to accommodate shipping containers, and want to be sure expanded capacity at the port is accompanied by increased freight capacity between Arizona and Guaymas.
Phoenicians in attendance at the meeting with Ruiz de Teresa were hopeful it would pave the way for more detailed conversations about the project down the line.
Sculptures by Sebastian
The Mexican artist who goes by the pseudonym Sebastian Escultor, or Sebastian Sculptor, has placed his monumental steel sculptures all over the world, including several in the border region. The giant red torch he made for San Antonio represents the friendship between the U.S. and Mexico.
Sebastian gave the Phoenix delegation a tour of his gallery and work shop in Mexico City.
City officials are hoping Phoenix will be able to host a traveling exhibition that is currently on display in Brownsville, Texas. It is a collection of 12 sculptures representing the signs of the Zodiac. Stanton hopes to put them in front of Phoenix light rail stations.
What to look for next
We can expect more Phoenix trade missions to Mexico in the future, and Stanton is also hoping to create a permanent presence in Mexico City in the form of a city office. He said it is a goal of his to create the office within his first term.
San Antonio already has three offices in Mexico, including one in Mexico City known as "Casa San Antonio" that houses a city employee and four contractors. Phoenix officials stopped by for a visit. Jill Metcalfe, the office's director, told them San Antonio's presence in the capitol gives the city an advantage for promoting cross-border business.
But if projections of Mexico's economic growth and surging middle class turn out to be overblown, or if positive trends there slow down, will Phoenix still be as committed to strengthening the relationship?