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Sep 29, 2013 7:10 PM by Erika Flores

Fresh produce industry wants more customs agents at ports of entry

RIO RICO, Ariz. - A new report details the economic impact of the fresh produce and manufacturing industries on Santa Cruz County.

According to the report, more than 85 percent of the 750 thousand commercial truck crossings between Mexico and Arizona go through the Mariposa Port of Entry.

The value of the trade is about 20 billion dollars annually.

According to the report, the industry generates nearly 6 thousand jobs in Santa Cruz County, but a federal program to better staff ports of entry bypassed Arizona leaving some feeling like other states are getting the upper hand for economic growth.

Now, officials are trying to figure out what to do to keep expanding the industry.

"Are we going to expand the ports of entry, are we going to modernize the ports of entry and make them more feasible for trade and goods or services and people to pass through the port of entry in a safe, secure, fast and economic fashion?" said Ruben Reyes, senior district advisor at Congressman Grijalva's office.

"We need customs officers for Nogales. This is how we're going to grow the economy. This is how we're going to bring jobs to Arizona," said Lance Jungmeyer with Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

A federal program allows border communities to reimburse the government for customs agent services.

CBP has created partnerships with communities in Texas and Florida but not Arizona.

"In Texas they have the mechanisms to tax themselves or the fees that they're charging at the tolls to cross their bridges to create the money that they can use for the overtime for these officers. Where you come to Arizona and there are no bridges there are no tolls to come into our state from Mexico," said Bruce Bracker, with the Santa Cruz County Port Authority.

That's something Jungmeyer thinks is an unfair advantage.

"They need to make sure that the ports of entry are all adequately staffed that there's not a certain advantage to go to one area over the other, and that the federal government is choosing that winner. That's not right," said Jungmeyer.

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