Mexico is the third-largest U.S. trade partner, but the relationship is only as good as its most congested bottlenecks. And those bottlenecks have constricted as the United States confronts fears of international terrorism.
Studies show that the U.S.-Mexico border is among the least efficient in the world, says computer engineer Hector Holguin. Among the leaders in expeditious, safe, and technologically advanced customs services are Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China.
"We lag terribly," he says. "We are distracted by so many other issues that neither we nor the Mexicans have come up with what's needed – a genuinely seamless transaction."
Just in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, some 3,000 trucks cross daily and, according to U.S. Customs data, about one in every 20 are inspected.
Mr. Holguin would like to see routine shipments – from exporters and importers whose good behavior has been guaranteed – not get bogged down in inspections, while shipments where concerns might be well founded get the scrutiny they deserve.
"We now have the model," he says.
His model is generating interest among border states in the United States and Mexico, and Texas has announced an intent to invest in the company.
At first look, the connection isn't obvious between moving soft drinks bottled in Ciudad Juarez across the border to an El Paso warehouse, and an accomplished El Paso engineer launching himself out of retirement and into long days, extensive research, and the tangle of municipal, state, and federal rulemaking.
But several compelling reasons led Mr. Holguin to create, in 2002, SecureOrigins Inc., a border-based partnership of high-tech innovators with a deceptively simple mission: move goods faster, more efficiently, and securely in a post-9/11 world.
Mr. Holguin, 71, whose pioneering work in computer-aided design and achievements over five decades cemented his name in engineering annals, couldn't resist the temptation.
Had it only been about making trade more efficient, he might have declined, for the fruits of his work had already been used to expedite commerce.
But this also gave him an opportunity to help out El Paso and its larger Mexican twin, Ciudad Juarez. He had already done that repeatedly, managing and starting up a stream of companies, including one whose value on the Nasdaq increased 55-fold in a couple of years.
And it gave him another opportunity to contribute to his country. A veteran, he had worked on flight tests for the Saturn Space Vehicle as aerospace project manager at Douglas Space Systems Inc., the predecessor to Boeing Space Center. Later, he worked on defense projects for the Department of Defense and the Canadian and Israeli armed forces.
Mr. Holguin, the CEO, and his team believe SecureOrigins technology can accelerate the glacial pace of commercial declarations. His team includes his daughter and chief strategist Rosario Holguin, CFO Raul Prieto, Chief Technology Officer Jens Pohl, board director Ron Munden, director of sales Gilbert Moreno, and Marty Loya, the director of project management. The SecureOrigins staff is holding at 12 employees until it can garner a contract.
Mr. Holguin says SecureOrigins has spent about $3 million in its five-year lifespan. Start-up capital of $500,000 came from the venture capitalist organization Camino Real Angels Group, which is now a minority shareholder.
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