Erik Lee, executive director for North American Research Partnership, summarizes the impact very succinctly. “SkyBridge is the most consequential Mexico-Arizona business project in this part of Arizona,” Lee states emphatically.
SkyBridge marks the nation’s first inland air cargo hub to house a joint United States-Mexico customs facility. The recent groundbreaking of SkyBridge, housed in Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, marks an opportunity for 17,000 projected long-term jobs to enter the region — both directly and indirectly. But job creation is just one snippet born of a much larger “SkyBridge vision.”
“Mexico continues to be our No. 1 trading partner by far,” explains Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC). “In the last three to four years, we’ve really enhanced our relationship with the State of Sonora and other states.”
Those wondering just how valuable the Mexico-Arizona partnership is can simply look at the statistics regarding e-commerce. According to Marco A. López Jr., president and CEO of Intermestic Partners and founding partner of SkyBridge Arizona, e-commerce in the Latin American market is a $359 million industry — and growing.
Opportunity knocks at SkyBridge
“Opportunity is tremendous when you think about the fact that we are currently at less than one-half of the market penetration into Mexico and Latin America,” López says. “The question has been, ‘How can we facilitate it?’ That’s where we come to the SkyBridge opportunity. This is an Arizona story centered at the Gateway-Mesa Phoenix airport.”
According to López, 75 percent of goods bought online from Latin American countries are being purchased from e-commerce websites in the U.S. This makes SkyBridge perfectly positioned as an international clearance hub for goods bought in the U.S.
“It offers e-commerce to Mexican consumers in big-box retailers,” Lee says. “It seems to me that it’s a golden opportunity to connect high tech, automotive and aerospace industries in Mexico. It’s both highly profitable and time-sensitive.”
SkyBridge Arizona is a 360-acre, long-term development at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport that will allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Mexican Customs officers to work side by side to jointly inspect and process shipments in preparation for international transit.
“SkyBridge is a great asset to add to what we have at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport,” says Ryan Smith, director, communications and government relations, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority. “We view Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport not as much as an airport, but as a large redevelopment project that just happens to have an airport. So when you look at a project like SkyBridge, with lots of acreage and direct access to three 10,000-foot runways, the possibilities are limitless as to what you can produce there and what can locate at SkyBridge.”
According to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, SkyBridge is a $230 million commercial development that will have 2 million square feet of warehouse space, 1 million square feet of office space, 800,000 square feet of air cargo operations, 900,000 square feet of light industrial and flex space, and 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. It is also expected to increase cargo flights out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway to 2,000 per year, a number that will skyrocket to 10,000 by 2036.
Time is of the essence
Camacho agrees with Lee that when it comes to maximizing SkyBridge opportunities, time is of the essence.
“SkyBridge got out the gate quickly with Mexican and U.S. customs,” Camacho says. “What I hear every day is the clock ticking because every day there are other states that are running vigorously to pursue similar opportunities. They also see the Latin American market as a tremendous e-commerce platform.”
Why will other regions rush to formulate their own versions of SkyBridge — or try to anyway? There are several motivating factors.
First, SkyBridge enables a streamlined duty process essential to fostering a healthy and productive e-commerce environment.
“The duty for goods is paid here in Arizona and transmitted to each country’s tax collection office,” López says, “which means no more abandoned goods that taxes aren’t collected on.”
This results in a win-win for the consumer who buys the product; the tax authority
who collects the duty; the logistics chain that can expand its operation into Latin America; and the company that operates only in the U.S.today, but wants to expand south of the border.
“Arizona then becomes the leader in logistics,” López says. “We have the Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus across from SkyBridge. We know that e-commerce will not only continue to grow in Latin America, but also locally and globally.”
It’s also an opportunity to grow other business sectors.
“This is an inland port that brings the conversation to tech businesses in Arizona,” Lee adds. “It was going to take someone like Marco (López ) bringing his meaningful relationships with Mexico to make this work. It’s a real project for Arizona politicians and local officials and focus on — touch, feel and think about — and anchor their interest in Mexico and border relationships.”
The other logistic advantage SkyBridge offers is in expedited delivery of goods. With Mexican customs officials on site at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the customs approval process can happen before the plane departs from the U.S. to Mexico, allowing cargo to be delivered to its destination the very same day, according to CBRE Senior Vice President Jackie Orcutt.
“In the past, there’s been a bottleneck for delivery of product to Mexico via air cargo and it could take up to 14 days for cargo product to make it through customs once it had landed in Mexico,” Orcutt says. “This process allows it to happen essentially the same day.”
In addition, companies operating out of SkyBridge benefit by saving three to four months of tax benefits since taxes are not required to be paid until a company has a buyer. Goods can be trucked to Mesa, stored in a warehouse, add value by being assembled onsite, and all the while, still be classified as a foreign product until it goes to the buyer.
“For Arizona, this means our state becomes the place where companies come that want to interact with Mexico,” López says. “There’s no stop in terms of opportunity potential. The long-term potential of SkyBridge is that in terms of national logistics leadership, no other city in America has this type of infrastructure ready to go.”