Most people would be happy with a prosperous and welleducated next-door neighbor poised to become very wealthy over the next 20 years. Arizona has just such a neighbor on our southern border, the nation of Mexico.
Mexico enjoys the fastest-growing economy in Latin America and now boasts the 13th largest economy in the world. By 2020, Mexico is slated to surpass Russia and India to become the world's seventh largest economy. This is hardly a surprise. Over the past several years, Mexico has increasingly become a global player with a strong industrial base, improving universities, a growing workforce and increased buying power in the world marketplace. As the American workforce ages and our population declines, Arizona employers will continue to count on the Mexican workforce - and not just day laborers and guest workers. As Mexico's young workforce continues to grow and gain new skills, Mexican engineers, legal experts, scientists, technicians, medical researchers and business leaders will become an even more valuable resource for Arizona companies.
Twenty years ago, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was fi rst enacted, an underlying intent was to create a strong trade partnership among its members to leverage the joint market position between the U.S. and Mexico, helping us compete with China and other emerging Asian economies. Instead of American companies shipping jobs to Asia, the theory went, jobs would be "nearshored" to Mexico where they would still benefi t border states like Texas, California and Arizona.
Arizona's proximity to Mexico has allowed us to tie into the Mexican supply chain, increase our state's leverage in the global marketplace and give Arizona companies unique opportunities for economic growth. 34% percent of the goods exported from Arizona go to Mexico, and 35% of the goods we import come from Mexico. In all, cross-border trade accounted for $6.1 billion in 2011, up nearly 16% since 2008.
While the bonds of cross-border commerce grow stronger, governmental and political considerations in Arizona and across the country seem to discount the reality of our unique economic relationship with Mexico. Our economies have prospered through cooperation and the shared desire for mutual prosperity. Unfortunately, a hard line on immigration has had a chilling effect on cross-border trade, undoing much of the economic progress made possible by our close ties with Mexico. It is for this reason that the Greater Phoenix Economic Council helped develop The Real Arizona Coalition, joining as a founding member and leading its call for civility and a solution-based dialogue in the immigration debate. To that end, I am extremely pleased that both Arizona Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, are part of the U.S. Senate's "Gang of Eight" working on a bipartisan and practical modernization effort to reform America's immigration woes.
Likewise, in their recent book, "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution," former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his Arizona co-author Clint Bolick, of the Goldwater Institute, see immigration reform as an area of bipartisan consensus that is "…constantly undermined, obviously by strident opposition at the extremes… But there is broad middle ground on immigration that commands the support of the large majority of Americans."
It must be recognized that the Latino community is a driving political and economic force in Arizona and, as seen in the last presidential election, all across the country. As both a state and nation, we cannot afford to create a perception that immigrants, especially those from Mexico, are unwelcome.
For a geographic region to fl ourish, there must be more workers and the potential for diversifi ed human capital. Immigrants from Mexico and the rest of the world can provide Arizona with that needed human capital, bringing the critical 18-34 yearold demographic group into our skilled workforce, building Arizona's buying power and creating increased demand for Arizona products and services. A strong partnership with our Mexican neighbors is one of Arizona's best opportunities to create a thriving economic engine.
Part of that solution must be the modernization of the U.S. immigration system. Obviously, unresolved immigration issues bring an array of problems that cannot be ignored, but crafting solutions through consensus is the age-old formula for American greatness. Our nation has always been improved by immigrants seeking the freedom to grow, prosper and innovate.
America's achievements in science, technology, aerospace, commerce, medicine, research and entrepreneurship have grown exponentially thanks to the vitality, drive and determination of immigrants. In fact, according to a report from the Partnership for a New American Economy, more than 40% of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children and employ more than 10 million people worldwide.
As we look ahead, how Mexicans perceive Arizona is as important as how we perceive them. Arizona now has the opportunity to lead the nation to a new understanding of the importance and value of immigration. Recognizing our interrelationship with our Mexican neighbors is an important step.
Barry Broome is the President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and a Member of The Real Arizona Coalition Leadership Council.