PHOENIX — Upgrading ports of entry along Arizona’s border is essential to improving trade with Mexico, the state’s biggest trading partner, according to the newly appointed executive director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission.
“We have a lot of opportunity to make the process better for border crossing,” said Margie Emmermann, re-appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week to the position she held under Republican Govs. Fife Symington and Jane Hull.
But at the same time, Emmermann, who also will be Brewer’s policy adviser on Mexico and Latin America, said she knows there are a slew of other trans-border issues to be dealt with, including security, environmental protection, cultural awareness and enhancing tourism.
The commission, approaching its 50th anniversary this year, is a nonprofit group composed of 13 bi-national committees of business and public leaders. Its goal: promoting advocacy, trade, networking and information sharing.
“We just want to make sure to continue the great work that has been done by this commission,” Emmermann said. “Continue enhancing the work of the Arizona-Mexico Commission and continue enhancing the relationship with Mexico.”
Emmermann had served as director of the Arizona Office of Tourism and was director of the state Department of Commerce before that. She also has headed marketing and community relations for Bank of America in Arizona and US West Communications.
Rep. Russell L. Jones, R-Yuma, who served with Emmermann during her first tenure as the commission director, said her re-appointment signals the commission’s return to a strategy of private sector cooperation, a mission he said it has strayed from in recent years.
“It’s perfect timing, given all of her expertise and language skills that she has and her experience, that we bring back a person who was so integral to the commission’s evolution,” he said.
The commission initially had a much more symbolic role, entertaining foreign dignitaries more than advancing an agenda, Jones said.
“We restructured the whole commission. We empowered and sought a much more dynamic board of directors from the private sector,” he said. “We started thinking more holistically as a region as an economic driver.”
Emmermann knows her way around the public and private sectors on both sides of the border, said Carlos G. Velez-Ibanez, chair of the department of transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies in Arizona State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
But of chief concern, Velez-Ibanez added in an e-mail interview, is stressing not just economics but also educational and institutional collaboration to foster an educated workforce on both sides of the border.
“Her biggest challenges are going to be continuing the sound relations between Sonora and Arizona especially in light of the vitriol about immigration and the deep concerns regarding drugs,” he said.
Emmermann witnessed these concerns firsthand, she said, during a vacation to Rocky Point earlier this month. Though she said the popular tourist destination seemed quite safe, many Arizonans are still scared to travel there.
“One of the ways the Arizona-Mexico Commission can help is making sure the right information about how to travel safely gets out,” she said.
— Created in 1959 by Gov. Paul J. Fannin, who stated, “God made us neighbors, let us be good neighbors.”
— Mission is improving the economic well-being and quality of life for residents of Arizona through a strong cooperative relationship with Mexico and Latin America.
— The commission’s membership consists of several hundred public and private sector leaders from throughout Arizona.