Commerce History

US-Mexico Border Commerce Timeline

Nogales is part of Ambos Nogales—the Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora twin city region—an international supply chain and logistics hub that is situated on a well-established north-south trade route on the U.S.-Mexico border. The community of Nogales, Arizona derives its identity in its role as an exclusive gateway for international interstate, air and rail service along 700-miles of the U.S.- Mexico border between Texas and California.

An early trade settlement on an historic trade route, Los Nogales history of entrepreneurship, mercantilism and international trade dates back to the establishment of Jacob Isaacson’s trading post in 1880 and the arrival of the first transcontinental railroad to the west coast of Mexico that opened up increased trade between the two countries in 1882.

Early History

Along the Nogales Pass route from the Gulf of California, native travelers trade goods with peoples from distant cultures of the Southwest, especially California and northern Mexico.

Late 1660s – Spanish Period

El Camino Real, The King’s Highway, is established from Guaymas to Tucson through Nogales in support of colonization, establishment of missions, and trade.

1854 – Gadsden Purchase Ratified

With the Gadsden Purchase, Ambos Nogales is bisected into the two distinct Nogales settlements—Nogales, Arizona, USA, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Together, the twin cities of Nogales are a critical transportation corridor for U.S. industrial commercial expansion to the West Coast.

1880 – Isaacson Trading Post Established

Mexican government opens Mexican Customs office at Los Nogales, and visionary Russian immigrant/San Francisco merchant Jacob Isaacson, who anticipates near-future rail service, establishes a Nogales trading post that serves travelers along the Guaymas-Tucson stage route.

1882 – Santa Fe Railway Connects with Sonoran Railway in Nogales

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (domestic) connects with Sonoran Railway (international) in Nogales, which boosts the local economy. Both Mexican and American merchants scramble to establish businesses close to the border to take advantage of the railroad and the opportunity for tax-free trade.

1893 – City of Nogales Incorporated

City of Nogales, Arizona, incorporates within Santa Cruz County, and a municipal structure sets the stage for further development of the evolving transportation and logistics hub.

1903 – DeConcini Port of Entry Opens in Downtown Nogales

Grand Avenue Port of Entry, later renamed DeConcini Port of Entry, opens after significant historic developments. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce is signed by China and Mexico in 1899, direct steamship travel between Hong Kong and Mexico is established in 1902, and Nogales becomes flooded with illegal traffic from China.

1926 – North-South Grand Canyon Highway is built

As North-South Grand Canyon-Nogales Highway is built, the stage is set for a highway system that will ultimately connect Mexico and Canada.

1944 – Fresh Produce Association of the Americas Formed in Nogales

A produce industry association forms in Nogales, the West Mexico Vegetable Distributors Association. After the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico designed to remove tariff barriers between the three countries, this produce distributors group changes its name to Fresh Produce Association of the Americas to reflect a more global view of the industry.

1967 – First Maquiladora Opens in Nogales, Sonora
U.S.-Mexico maquiladora industry is established in Ambos Nogales

With the end of the 1964 Bracero program that provided work authorization in the U.S. for Mexican farm workers, unemployment in northern Mexico grows. In response, the Mexican government creates a United States–Border Industrialization Program. In a spirit of cooperation and enterprise, the first maquiladora opens in Nogales, Sonora, just across the U.S.-Mexico border from Nogales, AZ. By 2000, approximately 1.3 million workers are employed in the maquiladora industry.

1973 – Nogales, Arizona Mariposa Arizona Port of Entry Opens

The Nogales, Arizona Mariposa Port of Entry opens in response to the growth of maquiladora plants in Mexico. It is open for commercial traffic in 1976 and is expanded to handle passenger-only vehicles in 1983.

1978 – North-South Interstate 19 Completed in Nogales

Interstate highway system construction begins in Nogales, with North-South I-19 completed in 1978, This highway will eventually connect to East-West I-10 completed in 1990. With I-19 in place, Nogales connects to the broad U.S. Highway system as well as the Mexican Federal Highway system. This improved transportation accelerates access to U.S. markets for Mexican produce and manufacturing.

1994 – NAFTA is Implemented

NAFTA is implemented. Later, during the global recession around 2010 and with the rising cost of energy, near-shoring gains prominence in the region, and in 2011 NAFTA legislation leads to 1st Mexican truck with long haul capability being allowed. Heavy Mexican trucks (up to 90,800 pounds) are offloaded in local warehouses (and up to 75 miles from the border in Arizona). The collaborative Ambos Nogales manufacturing relationship continues to mature.

1995 – Nogales Designated Part of the CANAMEX Corridor

Nogales is designated as part of the CANAMEX corridor, established under NAFTA. The corridor links the western United States to both western mainland Mexico to the south and western Canadian markets to the north.

2004 – Nogales-Santa Cruz County Port Authority Formed

Local business community members form the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Port Authority and spearhead efforts to build FAST lanes at the Mariposa Port of Entry starting in 2005. This effort results in the 2007 securing of $13.7 million for the design phase of the Mariposa Port of Entry Reconfiguration Project.

2009 – Mariposa POE Expansion Approved, the Largest Federal POE Investment to Date

Nogales receives approximately $200 million for the Mariposa port construction phase of the GSA-led Reconfiguration Project. The upgrade is projected, upon completion, to more than double the throughput capacity for inspection of both goods and people, with this volume to again double by 2025.

2011 – First Mexican Truck with Long Haul Capability Allowed

A NAFTA provision is fulfilled with the first long-haul Mexican trucks entering the U.S. at Nogales. Weight limit increases and resolution of safety concerns enable trucks to travel beyond a previous limit into a U.S. “commercial zone,” with benefits to Nogales that include increased security of shipments, reduced congestion at Arizona ports of entry, Reduced total emissions and fuel consumption, Processing efficiencies and creation of new jobs.

2014 – Mariposa Port of Entry Expansion Complete

Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales expansion is completed, one of General Services Administration’s (GSA) largest American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects. This POE, Arizona’s largest gateway for international trade with more than $20 billion of imports and exports, close to 300,000 trucks, 450,000 pedestrians and more than 1.2 million cars per year, is the only place where the U.S. I-10/ I-19 corridor meets the growing commercial demand on Mexico’s Highway 15. The expansion and modernization of the port enables the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) to move people, materials and information efficiently and securely across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Originally designed to handle 400 trucks daily with an expected utility life of 25 to 30 years, the facility now handles up to 1,300 trucks a day during peak season. Since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, the number of northbound commercial truck crossings per year grew from 190,000 to over 280,000 in 2006. These crossings have also increased greatly in terms of value and weight. In 2007, the facility processed imports into the U.S. worth $8.4 billion with a weight of 6.26 billion pounds. Currently, the Mariposa POE processes 6.1 percent of the total value of imports from Mexico by truck.

Learn more about Nogales, Arizona’s heritage and its notable families, at the Nogales USA website.

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