UTEP: Border economy recovering despite COVID-19 surge, supply chain issues

Border Report

Cargo trucks lineup to cross to the United States near the US-Mexico border at the Cordova-Americas International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on April 4, 2019. (HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The region’s commerce has benefited from the lifting of border travel restrictions even though a strong dollar is shrinking the purchasing power of consumers from northern Mexico.

So says the latest Borderplex Business Barometer report from the University of Texas at El Paso, which maintains that the economy in the El Paso-Las Cruces-Juarez region continues its economic recovery despite chain-supply disruptions and the spike in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

“In spite of all the disruptions, uncertainties and health issues, the local economy grew in a fairly robust manner throughout 2021,” the UTEP report states. “Above average vaccination rates have allowed many lockdown restrictions to be lifted throughout the Borderplex. In response, labor market conditions improved substantially.”

November unemployment rates in El Paso dropped to 5.0 percent after hovering around 15 percent at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Las Cruces, New Mexico, is just a step behind with a 5.3 unemployment rate. The health and hospitality (hotels) sectors expanded in both cities.

Across the border in Juarez, Mexico, manufacturing activity remains strong despite supplier issues and the weak peso is attracting more foreign investment, the report says. “On balance, the Chihuahua state economy performed very well in 2021, (with strong industrial activity) helping retail activity surpass 2019 levels during most of the first three quarters of the year.”

The return of cross-border retail commerce did not shoot up waits at U.S. ports of entry, as feared. “Border wait times did not increase by very much, as careful planning efforts by U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been successful,” the report says.

That’s a reference to CBP adjusting staffing levels at ports of entry as dictated by demand and local partnerships. The City of El Paso dedicates up to $1.67 million a year to the P3 Program, which pays overtime of customs officers to speed up vehicle traffic at international bridges.

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