The El Paso Inc. this week published a piece titled “What El Paso can learn from Music City” by Secret Wherrett. In it, Wherrett writes that the El Pasoans that attended the Greater El Paso Chamber’s trip to Nashville returned with a clear understanding of what El Paso can learn from Nashville’s economic initiatives. Interspersed between the normal “collaboration” and quality of life buzzwords was the real reason El Paso continues to stagnate in every possible way.
Why El Pasoans still think modeling themselves after other cities is the answer to El Paso’s economic prosperity continues to baffle me. Although it may seem like a simple case of having no creativity in understanding the essence of El Paso the more these trips for soul searching continue the more I believe it has everything to do with the El Paso elite being ashamed of being El Paso. Wherrett quotes El Paso Electric’s Marybeth Stevens as stating, “don’t look at what you want to be, look at what you have”.
It is the message that everyone wants to ignore and bury while focusing on what great things, other cities have. It also shows that many in El Paso believe that to make El Paso prosperous all it takes is to get El Paso to build something new and people will magically gravitate to the city with fistfuls of money. It is the “build it and they will come” mentality that El Paso has been pushing for decades now. This week it is Nashville, last week it was Albuquerque and next week it will be Santa Fe. The politicians always want to be what other cities are and not what El Paso is.
At first, I thought this was just stupidity within the political elite.
Now I am starting to think that it is nothing more than the shame of being El Paso.
Let’s look at what El Paso is.
El Paso is the second-largest metropolitan area on the US-Mexico border. Unlike the Tijuana-San Diego border, El Paso and Cd. Juárez are adjacent to each other making them one continuous metropolis on the US-Mexico border.
The El Paso-Cd. Juárez region has the largest bilingual and binational work force in the Western Hemisphere.
El Paso is the largest port of entry on the US-Mexico border.
Direct foreign investment into Cd. Juárez will be about $750 million this year. Foreign investment in El Paso is practically nonexistent.
Mexico exports about 70% of its products to the United States each year. It is the largest exporter in the world. According to the US Embassy, Mexico “exports more to the United States in goods and services in just over a month that it does in one year to the 27 countries of the European Union”.
In 2013, US-Mexico trade produced about $550 billion. About 60% of that trade traversed through the State of Texas. That trade accounted for about 6 million US jobs. In 2013, San Diego handled about $56.5 billion in US-Mexico trade. El Paso handled about the same trade; approximately $60 billion.
Clearly, the economic future of El Paso lies not in emulating the tourism successes of San Antonio, Nashville or Santa Fe but rather in embracing the fact that it could be epicenter of the largest trade market in the world.
The fact is that El Paso can never be a tourist destination no matter how many pretty attractions it builds or how many glossy posters it produces. What El Paso is, and always has been is the economic gateway between Mexico and the US. Unfortunately and to the detriment of El Paso, the El Paso elite and their political cronies will do anything to pretend Cd. Juárez and Mexico have nothing to do with El Paso.
If and until that mindset changes El Paso will continue to be the highest taxed population in the US and remain one of the lowest economically challenged city as well. It could be so much more with a simple change in the mindset of those driving the public policy agenda of the city.