TUBAC, Ariz. — Mexican fresh fruits and vegetables crossing through Nogales into the U.S. are big business.

The import industry thinks that fact may put its operations in new light during the country’s financial trouble.

“The tone is changing in Phoenix because what you guys do is create jobs,” attorney and lobbyist Robert Shuler told the crowd Nov. 3 at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas 43rd annual convention in Tubac, just north of Nogales.

“The Phoenix Chamber of Commerce is interested in the border now,” he said, noting that the state capital is finally recognizing the Nogales area represents important business opportunities, not just immigration problems.

The Mariposa border crossing in Nogales is in the middle of a $200 million renovation, and David Higgerson, director of field operations for the Tucson field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said all eight new cargo lanes should be open by January.

“Mexico is our guarantee against a recession,” he said.

J.B. Manson, chairman of the Greater Nogales and Santa Cruz County Port Authority, said capacity will increase to as high as 4,000 trucks a day crossing into Arizona in January, up from about 1,800 now for a port that was designed to handle about 400 per day.

“Staffing is an issue when this project is fully done,” Manson said. “We can’t have half the lanes closed.”

Before the Nov. 3-5 annual meeting, Lance Jungmeyer, president of the FPAA, said the Produce Marketing Association had one of its Fresh Connections events in Nogales, where traceability and food safety were hot topics.

He said those issues, and how the import community works with the Food and Drug Administation and its Food Safety Modernization Act, are the major concerns in the area.

The annual meeting also featured a keynote address from Steve Grinstead, chief executive officer of Monterey, Calif.-based Pro*Act, port and warehouse tours, a golf tournament and award dinner.

More than 500 attended the events, according to the FPAA. Next year’s meeting is scheduled for Nov. 8-10 in Tubac.