PHARR, RGV – As Pharr city leaders continue to celebrate the 25th year of operation for their international bridge, the latest WorldCity magazine rankings show the land port as No. 3 in Texas.
Ken Roberts, publisher of WorldCity, was in Pharr recently to share the news. He pointed out that Pharr ranks as the No. 3 border crossing in the state of Texas, behind Laredo and El Paso, and 7th in the nation as a whole.
Additionally, Pharr ranked No. 29 in the country among more than 450 airports, seaports and border crossings. And the bridge produced record trade figures for 2018, worth $35.4 billion.
“The growth in Pharr’s trade over the last quarter century, while impressive, really impressive, merely serves to set the table for tomorrow and the enormous potential the city has to capture an ever-larger volume of exports and imports in the coming years,” Roberts told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Pharr International Bridge Director Luis Bazan told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Either way you slice it, this is fantastic news for Pharr, the region and beyond.”
Pharr leaders are hosting a 25th Annual Customer Appreciation Holiday Social on Friday, Dec. 13, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The event takes place at the Pharr International Bridge and will feature food, drink, live entertainment sand gift raffles. To RSVP contact Vanessa Guzman at [email protected]
WorldCity magazine’s website address is ustradenumbers.com. The website has over ten million datasets of trade date in interactive charts for every airport, seaport and border crossing in the United States. It is updated monthly.
“When I visit the Pharr International Bridge and see the growth in the area’s warehouses and learn of the planned improvements to infrastructure, it’s apparent the city’s leadership understands the benefits that trade brings to the community in the form of revenue to city coffers for community services, jobs for the community and private-sector investment,” Roberts told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“But that benefit extends beyond Pharr to the rest of the valley, the state, wide swaths of this nation and Mexico.”
The continued growth of Pharr International Bridge was discussed at the Pharr Bridge Board’s most recently board meeting. Board members and staff also spoke about the World City report.
“Ken Roberts is the go-to guy for facts about ports of entry. The numbers speak for themselves,” said Fred Brouwen, director of operations for the Pharr International Bridge said. “And, another great thing about Ken’s report is that he does it in Spanish for us also.”
“Ken has been a strategic ally. He is the trade guy. There is no other term, he tracks the data. If it comes from World City or Ken, it can be trusted,” said Tony Martinez, vice chairman of the Pharr Bridge Board.
Brouwen has worked for the Pharr International Bridge from the very start. In fact, he was the toll collector as the first vehicle crossed the bridge back in 1994. Asked to contrast today’s volume of traffic with what was happening in 1994, Brouwen said:
“In 1994 we had 80 to 100 trucks a day coming in from Mexico, with roughly the same amount going back. Now, we have 2,500 to 3,000 trucks a day coming in, with 2,500 to 2,800 going back. Back then we collected $20,000 to $30,000 a month, now it is a million dollars a month. We have come a long way. We have accomplished big, big, numbers.”
According to the Pharr International Bridge’s website, southbound truck crossings totaled 54,301 in October, 2019, showing an increase of 2,173 trucks or 4.17 percent over the same month in 2018.
The same website shows that northbound truck crossings at the Pharr bridge totaled 58,887 trucks in October, an increase of 2,040 trucks or 2.04 percent over the same month in 2018.
According to the WorldCity report, Pharr total trade set a record for the third straight year, at $35.38 billion. It was the second straight year for record exports and the ninth straight year for imports. That trade, the magazine points out, includes everything from tomatoes to TVs, vehicle navigation equipment to raspberries, avocados to gasoline.
As far as the balance of trade is concerned, 35 percent of Pharr’s trade was exports and 65 percent was imports. Ninety-six percent of Pharr’s record-setting total trade was with Mexico and it was worth $33.97 billion.
Pharr International Bridge is best known for importing fresh produce. According to WorldCity’s numbers, 34 percent of U.S. imports of avocados and pineapples came across the Pharr bridge. For cabbage, kale and cauliflowers it was 33 percent. For strawberries, raspberries and other berries it was 32 percent. And for limes and other citrus it was 29 percent.
The biggest export by value in 2018, however, is petroleum gases, at almost $1.8 billion. Gasoline and other fuels totaled more than $711 million. The export of motor vehicle parts was worth more than $655 million.
As for imports across the Pharr bridge in 2018, TVs and computer monitors had the most value, at more than $2.6 billion. The import of avocados, dates, figs, pineapples, etc., were worth more than $1.2 billion. The import of motor vehicle parts was worth more than $1.1 billion.
Explaining its ranking as the 29th busiest port in the U.S., WorldCity stated that Pharr’s total trade was $35.38 billion in 2018, up 4.88 percent on 2017. Exports were worth $12.41 billion, up 6.39 percent. And imports were worth $22.97 billion, up 4.08 percent.
“As a board member, I spend a lot of time traveling with staff, especially in Mexico,” said Martinez, Pharr Bridge Board’s vice chairman. “The welcome we receive is always positive. We want to help our customers get their produce across in an efficient manner. We are literally feeding the country, as the gateway for produce.”
How Pharr International Bridge came about
At the Pharr Bridge Board meeting, consultant Hollis Rutledge took a trip down memory lane. He pointed out that he was the regional director of the General Services Administration when then Pharr Mayor Fidencio Barrera hatched the plan to build the Pharr Bridge.
“I was an internal part of the creation of this bridge. Fidencio Barrera was the mayor, and Polo Palacios was a city commissioner. They came to see me with their idea. This happened in 1990,” Rutledge said.
“Back then, the federal government wanted to develop regional commercial ports, rather than every bridge handle commercial. The idea was to develop this bridge as a commercial, regional, bridge.
“But, in the original appropriations, this was not on the radar screen in Congress. Following the original appropriations at GSA, there was $50 to $60 million left over. This allowed us us to go back to the Senate, back to the House, to provide the necessary money.”
By “us,” Rutledge was referring to Mayor Barrera, U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and himself.
“We got the presidential permit for the bridge in 1978, during Jimmy Carter area. In 1990 we were able to reprogram. When word got out (that Pharr had secured federal dollars for the construction of the bridge) we had calls from neighboring communities wanting to find out what Pharr was smoking. I said, they are not smoking anything, this is the real thing. By that time it was signed, sealed and delivered. It changed Pharr forever.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story was taken at the most recent Pharr Bridge Board meeting. Pictured from left to right are: Ezequiel Ordoñez, Pharr’s bridge liaison in Mexico, Vice Chairman Tony Martinez, consultant Hollis Rutledge, board member Larry Hernandez, board member Luis Flores, and director of operations Fred Brouwen. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)