Border tourism hurting, but trade is booming

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Last weekend, I got to return to a place I hadn’t been in 14 years — the border town of Laredo.

I grew up going to newspaper conventions in Laredo. Every third year, the South Texas Press Association held its convention at the historic La Posada Hotel, which overlooks the Rio Grande.

The hotel’s colorful, blooming bougainvilleas climb the walls and welcome visitors to the patios and pools. It is a little oasis in downtown Laredo, which is still struggling to rebound after Mexican drug violence affected its trade for more than a decade. The last time we were there was in 2003 when my now 16- and 14-year-old sons were two and four years of age.

Fourteen years later, Laredo tourism is still hurting since its across-the-river neighbor became infested with drug-related violence in the mid-2000s, just like Juarez, sister city to El Paso. That has kept people away from places like La Posada and the town’s historic downtown area.

But the trade arena is a different story. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a boon for Laredo over the past quarter century.

One statistic that has surprised everyone is that Laredo is the largest Texas trade city. The state comptroller’s office said Texas accounted for nearly $650 billion in international trade (2015) and Laredo was responsible for 58 percent of that, or about $204 billion. Between trucks and trains, more trade passes through this seemingly dusty, little border town than anywhere else in the state.

Now, Laredo officials don’t want Washington, D.C. to slay their golden goose.

True immigration reform would help, but a border wall would hurt, we were told by locals.

Congressman Henry Cuellar of the 28th District, a former Texas Secretary of State, also addressed our group. Cuellar praised the border’s low crime rate (despite what we hear from those who don’t live there). He chided politicians who fly to the border for a half-day visit and think they know everything about the area.

 

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