- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SANTA TERESA, N.M. — The original developer’s grandiose dream for turning this wide-open swath of desert into a modern, binational industrial hub complete with country clubs and residential neighborhoods filled with workers was written off years ago as just another border boom gone bust.

But some 40 years after the idea was born, this still-unincorporated community that has long been dominated by El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, is beginning to make its bankrupt founder’s vision appear prescient.

Situated 40 miles south of Las Cruces, New Mexico’s second-largest city, Santa Teresa has become a U.S.-Mexico border development hot spot. It is literally a stone’s throw across the border from computer and electronics manufacturing giant FoxConn, which operates Mexico’s largest border assembly plant, or maquiladora. Then there’s the $400 million rail hub being developed by Union Pacific on 2,200 acres on the U.S. side of the border.

There are new roads on both sides of the border and an expanding border crossing that enables commercial carriers to avoid the congestion between Juarez and El Paso. Some Mexican companies are relocating north to escape the drug violence in their country, and a trend continues toward moving some manufacturing from Asia to Mexico.

Combine that with thousands of acres of still-available open land and Charlie Crowder’s dream seems within reach.

“We are very bullish on the future of Santa Teresa,” said New Mexico’s economic development secretary, Jon Barela. He and Gov. Susana Martinez made the trip here last month for a distribution center groundbreaking for Interceramic Inc., a Chihuahua, Mexico, company that is one of the largest ceramic tile manufacturers in North America.

In the 1970s, Mr. Crowder’s first development here was a country club community. And that was supposed to be just the beginning. According to locals and news reports from the time, the developer had grand plans for a massive residential and industrial area complete with a new border crossing.

Mr. Crowder won the border crossing in the 1990s, but went bankrupt before the key roadways and other new infrastructure were completed to help attract business.

“What happened was that Charlie Crowder didn’t have the capital and he went bankrupt,” said Jerry Pacheco, an economic development adviser who has been working on the border for more than 20 years. “While the probate courts were settling all that, we lost a lot of momentum.”

In the ensuing years, three new major developers came in and built the industrial park space but housing starts failed to keep up, Mr. Pacheco said.

The “game-changers,” he said, were FoxConn —”that gave us a lot of ammunition to go out and recruit companies” that help supply and distribute their products — and now the Union Pacific project, which he called the “biggest thing since the port of entry opened.”

Some 50 companies have moved to the area in the past 15 years, including TE Connectivity, Georgia Pacific, Monarch Litho, Northwire, Menlo Logistics, and Expeditors. Mr. Pacheco estimates they have created as many 2,000 jobs.