Appreciating something very large and flat poses a challenge. Ants always have the problem, but they are used to it.
The appreciation problem had an extra element the day we toured Union Pacific's new intermodal facility in Do-a Ana County just north of the Santa Teresa port of entry and the Mexican border. The wind averaged 48 miles per hour that day with gusts to 60 mph. Dust ensued, much dust.
Union Pacific is making Santa Teresa an inland port. If the concept sounds murky, remember that a port is where stuff gets shuffled around, much of the time today while still inside large metal boxes we inland types see stacked on rail cars. The typical port is on a coast with container ships of ever-increasing size on one side and trains and trucks on the other.
With an inland port, the concept of moving huge amounts of stuff remains the same but without ships and perhaps with a small role for airplanes added.
The facility will be a fueling station, a place to change crews and an intermodal ramp for moving goods. It is currently UP's largest capital investment and is the largest construction project on the border, said our host Jerry Pacheco, executive director of the International Business Accelerator (www.nmiba.com) in Santa Teresa.
Attention to the numbers is appropriate. They are large.
Start with the project dimensions: a mile wide and 11.5 miles long, a skinny rectangle containing 2,200 acres that will be home to 200 miles of track, according to an August 2011 UP news release. That 11.5-mile length is 1.5 miles short of the distance between Socorro and San Antonio and almost three miles more than the 8.7 miles between Bloomfield and Aztec.
The facility will cost more than $400 million, all of it UP's money. By price, it is the state's second largest project after the Urenco Ltd. uranium enrichment plant near Eunice, which has a $4.1 billion eventual price tag.
New Mexicans, many from Albuquerque and living in campers during the work week, do much of the construction work. Guzman Construction Solutions of Albuquerque has moved much of the dirt as a major subcontractor. Sundt New Mexico, the phase two general contractor, has many New Mexico sub-contractors.
Government, namely the Legislature and Govs. Bill Richardson and Susana Martinez, had a big role in the project happening. UP now buys its diesel fuel in Texas and pays no sales tax. The tax-everything-except-sometimes tilt of our gross receipts tax would have applied the tax to diesel purchased in New Mexico, a deal killer for UP, reports have indicated. An exemption passed under Richardson and was extended under Martinez.
Two businesses drawn to Santa Teresa by the UP facility are among the eight subsidiaries of Ironhorse Resources of O'Fallon, Ill., a 70-employee family business. They are the Santa Teresa Short Line Railroad a "handling carrier" for Union Pacific, and Border Transload and Transfer Inc.,
The short line is, in effect, an extension of UP, handing smaller tasks for smaller businesses below the scale of the giant carrier. With two tracks to its facility, STS will get cars such as regular rail cars (not the container cars with the big boxes) from UP to the customer and back to UP.
Border Transload's terminal nears completion on the 22-acre tract Ironhorse bought in the Verde Industrial Park, said Jeff Baskett, Ironhorse vice president. Corn sweeteners will be transferred from rail to trucks at the terminal. The trucks, in turn, will go to processors in the region including Mexico.
People expecting governors to snap fingers and fix economies should draw from Santa Teresa the lesson that these things take a while.
Harold Morgan has tracked the New Mexico economy for decades. He was editor for 20 years and publisher for four years of Progress, a business newsletter and was the founding editor of the New Mexico Business Journal.