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Democratic members of the state assembly met yesterday in Calexico with Imperial County officials and business leaders to discuss the economy and cross-border strategy to improve trade with Mexico. Chula Vista assemblyman Ben Hueso was among those who met with Calexico mayor Luis Castro and Francisco Perez Tejada, mayor of Mexicali, just across the border from Calexico.

Among topics discussed were the pursuit of more green-energy jobs. The sun-soaked region provides an ideal location for large-scale solar projects, in addition to geothermal energy, harvesting power from the heat of the earth. Local panelists believe energy could create desperately needed jobs (the Imperial Valley’s unemployment rate far exceeds that of the state's) without relegating farming, currently the major driver of the economy, to second-tier status.

While energy was cited as one opportunity to bring international investment to the region, reducing cross-border wait times at the Calexico port of entry was also discussed. To this end, Hueso says he’s pushing for an enhanced driver’s license that could substitute for the current passport-checking procedure.

Economists estimate that up to $9 billion could be added to the California economy if border wait times could be reduced to an average of one hour or less. For an example of efficient cross-border trade, Hueso pointed to the booming business of Texas border towns.

There may be partnership opportunities to explore with Mexicali, as well. Perez Tejada stressed the importance of including his city as part of a strategic economic zone, telling the group that Mexicali intends to push to become the top provider of aerospace technology in Mexico. In contrast to conditions on the U.S. side of the border, quality of life, unemployment rates, and education in the capital of Baja California are all considerably better than Mexican national averages.

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Dennis Nov. 12, 2011 @ 2:30 p.m.

I would like to see how the economists came up with the $9 billion figure by reducing wait times to an hour. That sounds pretty pie in the sky to me.


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