McALLEN, RGV – Year to date, imports of fresh produce from Mexico have shot up 38 percent at the Pharr International Bridge, reports Pharr Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Sergio Contreras.

In comparison, fresh produce trade at Nogales, Arizona, is up 14 percent so far this year and fresh produce trade at Laredo is up 23 percent. Contreras provided the statistics while delivering the keynote speech at a Greater McAllen Association of Realtors luncheon, held at the Casa de Palmas in McAllen.

“Did you know that the Pharr Bridge has only been in existence for about 20 years? Actually, 21 years this November. It cost the city about $18 million to construct and at this point in time we are trading at about $30 billion a year – that is commodities going northbound and southbound,” Contreras said. “We take pride in that. The majority of our traffic coming through is fresh produce. We are the No. 2 port of entry in the United States for fresh produce.”

Luis Bazán
Luis Bazán

The statistics on fresh produce trade came from the Center for North American Studies at Texas A&M University.

The No. 1 port in the nation for importing fresh produce is Nogales, Arizona. However, Pharr is catching up fast. According to the Eller College of Economics and Business at the University of Arizona, the figures for 2010 showed Nogales at $2.8 billion and Pharr at $1.3 billion. That year, Nogales had 57. 1 percent of market share and Pharr 26.5 percent. In 2014 Nogales’ lead had shrunk. Nogales had $2.9 billion of fresh produce trade and Pharr $2.5 billion. Nogales had 41.4 percent of market share and Pharr 35.7 billion.

Luis Bazán, interim director of the Pharr International Bridge, puts the growth in market share down to the new Mazatlan to Matamoros superhighway, which allows fresh produce growers in Sinaloa, Mexico, to transport their products to the east coast of the United States faster through Pharr. Traditionally the shipments were made through Nogales. “The biggest U.S. markets are in the northeastern part of the United States. If you go through Pharr you can get there a lot quicker. You can shave 700 miles off the trip,” Bazán told the Phoenix Business Journal.

Bazan recently spoke about investment at the Pharr International Bridge when Karen Bell, consulate-general in Houston, Texas, for the United Kingdom, paid a visit to the bridge. Bazan said there are four major projects currently underway at the bridge: 1) the building of two additional lanes and booths on the northbound side of the bridge coming from Mexico into the United States; 2) the building of a truck staging area for northbound traffic; 3) two additional exit lanes for northbound traffic after it moves past the entry booths; and 4) the building of a new facility that will house USDA inspectors and serve as a training facility for that agency.

“We are the only full-service bridge that actually invests inside the port. People ask us, why are you investing inside the port, it is northbound traffic, you are not getting any money in from traffic coming in from Mexico,” Bazan told Bell. “It is our responsibility to make sure these companies get their product to the U.S. market and then the truck gets back. At the end of the day we do benefit from it because those trucks are eventually going to exit back to Mexico through our toll bridge. We have about 2,200 trucks a day going northbound and 1,900 going southbound. That is revenue for the city.”

In his remarks to the Greater McAllen Association of Realtors, Contreras said Pharr is pushing to get a Foreign Trade Zone designation. “We want to capture these commodities that cross our bridge and provide an opportunity for these firms to set a footprint in south Pharr,” Contreras said. “At the state level we have already received the green light to move forward with it. However, the work really begins at the federal level. As we see the increase of commodities going northbound and southbound and we plan to capture those commodities going through our bridge so they can assemble and manufacture in Pharr. We do not have a timeline. We are identifying the entities that would benefit from a foreign trade zone.”

Contreras also spoke about development at the Pharr Trade District, which was formerly known as the Pharr Produce District. He 100 acres of land has been divided into 31 lots. These lots can house 20,000 to 40,000 square feet of warehousing and could employ up to 20 to 30 employees per warehouse. He said all of the utilities are in place and that interest in the park could well come from investors wanting increased cold storage facilities close to the Pharr International Bridge.

Contreras also spoke about development at the Pharr Bridge Business Park. He said this has 100,000 square feet of space and can comfortably handle 100 trucks at a time. One of the businesses locating in the Pharr Bridge Business Park is Interlink Trade Services Management. “We continue to invest in our bridge because we are already see the increase in traffic. We are meeting the needs of industry,” Contreras said.

In his presentation, Contreras also spoke about retail development at Pharr Town Center and Pharr Pavilion. The former is located on the north side of I-2/U.S. 83 and the later on the south side. He said Academy Sports & Outdoors will be anchoring Pharr Town Center with a 70,000 square foot facility that will likely open next March. Other stores at the center will include T.J. Maxx, Ross, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Buy Buy Baby and World Market. Contreras said a water fall display will be built next to Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen. Pharr Pavilion, which is anchored by At Home, will include Chick-Fil-A, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Freddy’s Frozen Custard, Contreras said. He said the traffic count for Pharr Pavilion and Pharr Town Center is 130,000.

Contreras also spoke about a new Regional Law Enforcement Training Center being built by South Texas College on 40 to 60 acres in Pharr, south of the Tierra Del Sol Golf Course. Contreras said STC is spending $4.5 million on the project with the City of Pharr donating the land. PSJA ISD will also be part of the project, Contreras said, so that courses at the center would include dual enrollment programs in criminal justice.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Sergio Contreras, executive director of Pharr Economic Development Corporation, at a Greater McAllen Association of Realtors luncheon. Standing behind him is Larry Hoelter, public information officer for GMAR.