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Border town brimming with opportunity

Otay Mesa has come a long way since the Otay Mesa Port of Entry opened in 1985. Today, Otay Mesa's bustling commercial border crossing is the largest between Mexico and California, and one of the busiest in the nation. Each year, more than 1.4 million trucks cross the border in Otay Mesa, transporting billions of dollars worth of goods.

Signs that the community is well-positioned for continued economic growth are everywhere. Housing development is booming - more than 11,000 new homes are slated for construction in the area -- and more than 1,200 companies with about 17,000 employees operate in Otay Mesa.

More than 80 percent of these companies do business with some of the 800-plus maquiladoras in Baja California. Major companies with operations in the region include Sanyo, Sony (NYSE: SNE), Honeywell (NYSE: HON) and Panasonic.

Just a few years ago, there was speculation that maquiladoras might be headed for extinction. But recent research - including data from Cross Border Business Associates, an Otay Mesa-based consulting firm - indicates that they are making a strong recovery and will continue to provide the area with inexpensive skilled labor.

Such news bodes well for Otay Mesa's future, as does the fact that it is one of the few areas in San Diego County with land available for industrial and commercial development. In addition, companies seeking to set up shop in the area can take advantage of numerous economic development incentives programs. And with the pending completion of state Route 125, getting in and out of Otay Mesa will be easier. The future state Route 905 will also increase access to the area.

Scheduled for completion in 2007, the 905 will connect interstates 5 and 805 to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

Opus West is among the developers taking note of Otay Mesa's benefits. Late in 2004, the company broke ground on Opus Crossings, a 320,000-square-foot industrial park. Featuring eight institutional-quality industrial buildings for sale or lease, the project should be completed late this spring.

Developers are also starting to make their mark in East Otay Mesa, part of San Diego County's unincorporated area. Plans are under way to build a high-tech business park in the area. A new generation of technology manufacturing plants has also begun to establish roots in Otay Mesa. They include companies such as Axsys Technologies, Graphite Design and Cosmed.

Companies engaged in cross-border business are also benefiting from recent initiatives introduced at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. In October 2004, a new northbound lane for commercial trucks was inaugurated. Dubbed the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Lane, it is a joint effort between the United States and Mexico designed to improve security while promoting economic prosperity in both countries.

Companies using the lane must comply with FAST regulations, which include rigorous inspections of their plants, warehouses and employees. In return, they benefit from faster electronic processing and reduced inspections that enable them to quickly cross the border.

"FAST is a perfect example of how to address security issues while keeping cross-border commerce flowing, which is vital to South County's economy, " said Cindy Gommper-Graves, executive director of the South County Economic Development Council.

Similar to FAST, the new Express Program provides a dedicated southbound lane for qualified shipments. The Otay Mesa Port of Entry also began offering extended year-round operating hours for commercial vehicles last summer. Northbound vehicles can now take advantage of longer service hours every day of the week except Sunday, while southbound vehicles can enjoy extended hours on Saturdays.

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