By Christopher Wilson and Erik Lee
The U.S.-Mexico border has yet again made an appearance in the political theater of the U.S. presidential campaign, starring in its traditional supporting role as a stock villain character. Though the political dialogue sounds like a re-reading of a script written in the 1990s or early 2000s when Mexican migration peaked, the discussion on the ground in most—but not all—U.S.-Mexico border communities long ago moved on to regional economic development. It is a largely positive discussion that could not be more different than what we are hearing at the national level.
Throughout the border region, local leaders from the public and private sectors are asking themselves how they can form cross-border partnerships to leverage assets in their sister cities and strengthen their local economies. They are looking to create a border that connects the United States to Mexico at least as much as it divides our two nations. A close look at the economic data, however, reveals divergent local economies and major border barriers. In our recent report, Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries, we found that while advanced manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive and medical devices often predominate in Mexican border communities, RV parks, retail and freight transportation are often the most concentrated (and often low-paying) industries in U.S. border communities.