PHARR, RGV – Former state legislator Russ Jones has been elected as chairman of the Border Trade Alliance.
Jones, chairman of R.L. Jones Customhouse Brokers, Inc., used to represent the border town of Yuma in the Arizona state legislature. He leads one of the U.S.-Mexico border’s largest customs brokerages, with operations in California, Arizona and Pharr, Texas.
His company’s services include customhouse brokerage services, international trucking, warehousing, foreign freight forwarding, trade software development and sales, commercial property development and insurance services, both in the U.S. and Mexico.
“I am honored to assume the chairmanship of the Border Trade Alliance, one of the nation’s most respected trade advocacy groups,” Jones said. “I look forward to collaborating with my fellow board members from San Diego, Calif. to Brownsville, Texas and along the northern border to continue BTA’s work of promoting policies that, for 30 years, have encouraged efficient and secure trade in North America.”
Jones was born in San Diego, California. He graduated from Calexico Union High School and went on to study Business Administration at San Diego State University. He also studied economic development at the University of Arizona. He is bilingual in Spanish and English.
From 1970-1972, Jones served in the U.S. Army, 63rd TOPO Corps, 82nd Airborne Division (Top Secret Clearance, Sp 6). He has also served as a Major in the Civil Air Patrol and is a pilot in the 508th Squadron based in Yuma, Arizona.
As an Arizona State Representative for District 24, Jones chaired the Agriculture and Water Committee, was a member of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. A Republican, he also sat on the Council of State Governments, Executive Committee, West.
Jones is a licensed Insurance Broker and Notary for the State of Arizona. He also has a National Customs Brokers License with a Customs Import Specialists (CIS) designation.
Jones’ professional activities include board of directors and executive committee for the Border Philanthropy Partnership, board of directors for the Agro-Industries Committee as part of the Arizona/Mexico Commission, and treasurer for the executive committee, and board of directors for the Border Trade Alliance. He is affiliated with the National Customhouse Brokers Freight Forwarders Association, the Southwest Arizona Port Users Association, and the San Diego Customs Brokers Association.
Jones’ civic activities include board member for the Yuma Community Foundation, a member of the Caballeros de Yuma, district advisory committee for the Boy Scouts of America, the arts commission in San Luis, Arizona, charter president for the San Luis ‘Frontera’ Rotary Club, and treasurer for the San Luis, AZ Industrial Park, L.L.C.
Jones takes the helm of the BTA’s board of directors from Jesse Hereford, who directs government affairs and business development for S&B Infrastructure in San Antonio. Hereford served for three years as chairman and oversaw numerous public policy wins for the 30-year-old group.
“Jesse has set a very high bar for me to reach in my term,” Jones said. “During his tenure, the BTA played a major role in the development of innovative public-private partnerships for staffing and infrastructure improvements at the ports of entry, as well as worked successfully to see passage of a multi-year highway bill that contained numerous provisions that are positive for the border region. On behalf of the entire BTA board, I can’t thank Jesse enough for his service to the BTA.”
Jones said he is looking forward to strengthening the BTA’s grassroots and expanding its strategic alliances in the coming year.
“I have made it a priority for 2016 that the BTA deepen its relationships with a broad network of border region stakeholders on both the northern and southern borders,” Jones said. “From like-minded organizations, to chambers of commerce and business groups, to academic institutions, we can make a bigger impact for our borders by working together. The BTA is the best kept secret in many parts of the border, something I aim to change.”
Jones said that while the BTA is well known and respected on Capitol Hill, its influence shouldn’t be limited to just the U.S. government. “I intend to forge new relationships in Ottawa and Mexico City. The BTA will build on its tremendous successes in the U.S. and make an impact on trade policy throughout the NAFTA marketplace,” Jones said.
In addition to Jones, the BTA also welcomed new officers. They are:
Vice Chair: Taylor Moreno, Office of the Mayor, El Paso, Texas
Secretary: Carrie Stumfall, consultant, Dallas, Texas
Treasurer: Julian Alvarez, Rio Grande Valley Partnership, Weslaco, Texas
As the immediate past chairman, Hereford will also serve as an officer.
Alvarez told the Rio Grande Guardian he is honored to be BTA treasurer. “I am honored to have been chosen to serve as the Treasurer for the Border Trade Alliance. I agreed to serve at this compactly because I continue to believe in its mission and also because I am passionate about helping lead this organization to greater effectiveness and efficiency.”
The Border Trade Alliance also welcomed two new board members. Paola Avila, is the vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Olivia Varela is the executive director of the Laredo Development Foundation.
“I want to welcome both Paola and Olivia to the board of directors,” Jones said. “I am looking forward to the insight into border issues that they will bring from San Diego and Laredo, respectively.”
In one of his first public comments as chairman of BTA, Jones applauded Congressman Henry Cuellar for successfully including language in the Fiscal Year 2016 government funding bill to allow land ports of to be eligible to apply for U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) infrastructure grants. The federal government funding bill will make available a total of $500 million in federal funding for TIGER grants. These grants make vital infrastructure improvements that ease the flow of traffic and will now be available to make our border crossings more efficient.
“Once again, Representative Cuellar has demonstrated why he is so highly regarded by the border trade community,” Jones said. “Ensuring that our ports of entry are now eligible for TIGER grants is a major accomplishment that will go far in bolstering our ports’ infrastructure, helping to alleviate the congestion that slows cross-border commerce. We very much appreciate Representative Cuellar’s efforts and thank him for being such a strong advocate for the border.”
Cuellar said the $500 million available under TIGER in FY 16 covers highway and bridge projects; transit projects; passenger and freight rail projects; and now infrastructure projects at land ports of entry. Under TIGER, Cuellar said, municipalities, counties, port authorities, tribal governments, metropolitan planning organizations, or other entities at the state and local level can apply directly to DOT to receive funding for projects to improve infrastructure and ease the movement of goods and people.
Cuellar pointed out that in Fiscal Year 2015, DOT awarded $500 million for 39 transportation projects in 34 states from its TIGER program. This year, rural areas received 43 percent of the project awards, a higher percentage than in any previous year. DOT received 627 eligible applications from 50 states and several U.S. territories, including tribal governments, requesting 20 times the $500 million available for the program.
Among those awarded funds in Fiscal Year 2015, Cuellar said, was the Texas Department of Transportation, which received $20.8 million in funds to construct transit facilities in growing rural areas of Texas and purchase replacement transit vehicles that will provide service to rural areas. These new facilities and vehicles will have improved safety and accessibility features for persons with disabilities.
“Our ports of entry can now receive federal funding through TIGER grants to make important infrastructure improvements,” said Cuellar, D-Laredo. “My district is home to the nation’s largest inland port and numerous other significant ports of entry. It is imperative that our nation’s ports and trade centers, such as those in my district and those along the border with Mexico – our nation’s third-largest trading partner and second-largest export market – receive the necessary funding to remain in peak condition. The availability of this funding will ensure that our economy continues moving forward.”