- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has made three quick trips across the border in the past year to meet with officials in neighboring Mexican states, with all of the visits aimed at ramping up trade and economic development opportunities.

The cost to taxpayers for the governor, other officials and her security detail to visit Hermosillo in the Mexican state of Sonora last August and Chihuahua twice in April totaled more than $17,000, according to a review by The Associated Press.

Her administration said the trade missions are a continuation of the work she’s been doing since taking office more than four years ago. New Mexico’s exports to Mexico have more than tripled to $1.55 billion in 2014, marking another record-setting year.

New Mexico also is leading the nation in export-related job growth, and commercial crossings at the southern border are setting more records. In Santa Teresa, officials say they’ve nearly run out of space at their industrial parks, and companies have invested close to $1 billion to locate in the area.

“The governor is working very hard to strategically position New Mexico as a key corridor for trade and to diversify our economy to better compete for jobs,” her spokesman Chris Sanchez said.

The competition might be heating up.

Governors across the country have been packing their bags for all-expenses-paid trade missions abroad, spending taxpayer dollars on costly trips that have an uneven track record of yielding any tangible benefits for their states.

Last week alone, governors of 10 states were jetting across Europe, many converging at an air show in Paris. Others traveled to Canada, South America and Asia. At the beginning of last week, more than a quarter of the nation’s governors were out of the country.

Gov. Doug Ducey in neighboring Arizona just wrapped up a trip to Mexico City, where he met with executives from major Mexican companies. That state is looking to rebuild relationships that were damaged by former Gov. Jan Brewer’s positions on immigration.

The boom along New Mexico’s border is a result of the personal relationships New Mexico officials have built with their Mexican counterparts, said Jerry Pacheco, executive director of The International Business Accelerator in Santa Teresa.

Pacheco said the governor’s visits to Mexico and her nearly 20 appearances in southern New Mexico’s border communities help make the case to private businesses that the public sector is behind the effort to build a manufacturing and distribution hub in the region.

“She gets it,” Pacheco said. “The real future that New Mexico has - and it has stared us in the face for 30 years - is trade with Mexico, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. That’s our future, and that’s our fastest economic growing component. That’s where we’re going to add jobs. That’s where we’re looking at investment.”

In April, Martinez was invited by Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of an $800 million bypass around the city of Chihuahua that’s expected to further the region’s position as a booming border-trade complex. That trip cost just over $3,000.

In 2013, Duarte and Martinez announced the creation of a 70,000-acre, binational community around the Santa Teresa-San Jeronimo border crossing.

At the time, Martinez called the potential endless.

With analysts projecting that Mexico will become the world’s eighth-largest economy by 2050, New Mexico, as its neighbor, is in a good position to benefit, state officials say.

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