( The Packer )

Since Jesus Gonzalez grew up in Nogales, Ariz., perhaps it is not surprising that he found his start in the produce industry. The fact that he stayed in it, he says, is because the business lit a fire in him.

“When you start selling and making deals, you just get that in your blood and it just keeps going,” Gonzalez said.

His first job in the industry was working as a “bird dog” in 1982 — a position that might called quality assurance now. He moved into sales in 1985 and worked for several Nogales companies in the decades ahead.

Now in 2018 and five years into his role as general manager at the Nogales office of Crown Jewels Produce, Fresno, Calif., Gonzalez is enjoying another phase of his career. It is a role that asks him to create new import programs in Mexico to grow Crown Jewel’s business.

“I’ve been very involved with (creating programs) and it’s just very rewarding because they are not deals like we used to buy and sell but they are programs — my job is to put programs in place for the company and find the growers to keep growing,” he said.

Until this year, the company has mainly imported from Sonora and Sinaloa, handling vegetables (excluding tomatoes), melons and grapes.

During the past year, Gonzales helped the company open a new supplier deal in Baja California, crossing cucumbers into San Diego.

“We had a lot of travel into Baja, meeting with growers, and we found one who was wanting to work with us to put a program together,” he said.

The firm’s Baja cucumbers will be active from May through November.

With Gonzalez running point in exploring new opportunities, the company has thrived.

“We just like the Mexican program,” he said. “It has been good to us and we keep growing, and we keep growing with some of the same growers, so that’s kind of nice and very rewarding,” he said.

By the spring of 2019, Crown Jewels expects to bring cucumbers and bell peppers from central or southern Mexico crossing through south Texas.

The longer-term vision for the company’s deals in Mexico, he said, is to have a variety of commodities sourced year-round from Mexico.

Alonzo Ortiz, owner of Prime Sales, Nogales, Ariz., said he met his long-time friend Gonzalez more than 30 years ago when they were working in quality control in a Nogales warehouse.

“He is reliable, his word is his word,” Ortiz said. “He is the kind of person if things are not right, he tries to make right.”

While he is not selling vegetables to buyers, Gonzalez does accompany sales staff on buyer visits and explains the timing and volume expectations of the company’s various programs.

“We’re growing with our customers, providing more items — customers keep asking for more (product).”

And the fire still burns.