U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, a Democrat from Phoenix and that city's former mayor, held an economic development roundtable with several Yuma leaders Thursday, pledging he will look out for the interests of the entire state.
"Of course, I came here to eat at Lutes Casino," he joked at the start of the meeting, then added, "Obviously the responsibility as a member of the United States Congress is to look out for the entire interest of the state. And this area is incredibly important to the success of the rest of our state."
The meeting followed a visit by Stanton and State House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez to the San Luis II commercial port of entry and the tent structure which houses a temporary migrant processing center next to the Border Patrol's Yuma Sector headquarters.
Stanton's 9th Congressional District is confined to eastern Phoenix and parts of Chandler, Scottsdale and Tempe, but he is a member of the majority party and sits on two influential House committees, transportation and infrastructure and the judiciary.
Yuma's agriculture, trade and aviation sectors were represented during the meeting at the offices of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation, along with Yuma city government.
Virtual and physical infrastructure dominated much of the conversation.
Paul Brierley of the Yuma Center for Excellence in Desert Agriculture said today's science is getting incredibly precise about how much water crops need and when, but the lack of access to high-speed internet from farm fields is a dampening factor.
"This as a place, this is world-class. If you look at the numbers, we're in the top one-tenth of one percent of all counties in certain types of ag production," Brierley said. said. "This is a place (where) things could be developed.
"But if it's seen that we're not going to have access to the cloud, and not able to get all this data up to where it can be processed and fed back, it would be a nonstarter."
Stanton said he'd been approached by other Yuma County leaders about infrastructure in the very recent past. "The vice mayor of San Luis (Maria Ramos) came into my office yesterday and told me what I'm supposed to support when it comes to infrastructure. And I listened intently," he said.
The recent surge in migrants crossing the border didn't hit its peak until after the Yuma produce season was basically over, leading to 50 inspectors being transferred from border port posts to take on border enforcement-related functions.
A drop in the number of asylum-seekers and other migrants from Central America has eased the situation.
But Russ Jones of RL Jones Insurance said another surge in migration would not only keep shipments from crossing back and forth due to lack of inspections, but add to the already hours-long waits of thousands of field workers who commute here from Mexico every day during the season.
"We're just one flood away, at the wrong time, from a major disaster, an economic disaster," Jones said.
Jones and Harold Maxwell of Arizona Farm Bureau both said they support reforms to H2A and other ag worker programs, which give more flexibility -- and include a path to permanent residency or citizenship for those who want it after working here for a number of years.
Maxwell said there are greater concerns for the nation as a whole when it comes to tens of thousands of migrants crossing the border, as was happening earlier this year.
"Every last one of us is an immigrant. But we need to be able to control, we just can't have wave after wave after wave, because some other area of the world is not as good as the U.S.," he said.
Everyone at the table said they support passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal being negotiated to replace NAFTA.
"One of the things it seems to be doing is fixing some of the problems inherent in NAFTA," Maxwell said. "In Arizona in particular it allowed us, as a nation, to trade off citrus in Arizona for soybeans in Iowa. And if you take a look at that, that's what really decimated the lemon industry in Arizona."
Despite the heightened partisanship being seen in many congressional votes, Stanton said, "As I sit here right now, I'm more optimistic than ever that we're going to get a deal before the end of the year," he said.
Fernandez said even given the long-running rivalry between Yuma and other rural areas in the state with urban interests in Maricopa County, businesses across Arizona share many of the same interests.
"Phoenix business leaders are facing the same problems as our business leaders, and that's why it's so important that we all come together, and even though Congressman Stanton does not represent our area, he represents our interests," she said.
And Stanton said there are larger economic forces that the entire country is subject to, which he and the rest of Congress will be maneuvering as they look to invest in infrastructure and other issues.
"Obviously it's very precarious times right now, I don't need to tell you, you're in the business. Or if you invest in the stock market. Or if you follow the inverted yield curve," referring to bond markets reaching a benchmark on Wednesday which has been a reliable predictor of a coming recession, he said.
Yuma Sun reporter Blake Herzog can be reached at 928-539-6856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.