The opening last year of San Luis II, a commercial land port of entry on the southwestern Arizona border with Mexico, was expected to stimulate the area’s fresh produce industry.

Spindle Cooling & Warehousing LLC was ready.

Before the port opened, the San Luis, Ariz.-based operation, founded initially as San Luis Cooling more than 20 years ago by Henry Chavez, launched a major project to expand the company’s cold and dry storage capacity.

“Cooling is the majority of it, more than 40,000 square fee,” Chavez said.

That includes freezer space, 19,000 square feet of cold storage kept at 33-36 degrees and a nearly as large holding room maintained at 45-50 degrees, he said.

Those figures do not include the 24,000 square feet of what had been Lydia’s Specialty Fruit Inc. Because of the anticipated increased volume, Chavez and his partner, Mario Jauregui, elected to shut down the fresh cut fruit company Chavez acquired in 2008 and converted it to cold storage.

Courtesy Spindle Cooling & Warehousing

The first phase of a major expansion project at Spindle Cooling and Warehousing LLC, Sun Luis, Ariz., increases the company's cold and dry storage capacity by more than 25%, said Henry Chavez, founder and co-owner. Spindle also converted an adjacent fresh cut fruit company -- seen in the background -- to cold storage, and future plans call for additional increases in cold and dry storage, Chavez said.

“Our facility at Spindle now can handle at least 50% more volume than it could a year ago,” he said.

Plans for the future, Chavez said, include a 20,000-square-foot dry warehouse and another 60,000 square feet of cold storage.

The new port will mean Mexican grower-shippers will get their fresh produce into the U.S. much quicker. The old port in downtown San Luis handled pedestrian and private vehicle crossings in addition to commercial loads.

“It got to be the situation where most of the Mexican growers would take their produce to Mexicali, cross there, then return to San Luis to the coolers,” Chavez said.

San Luis II, about 7 miles east of the old port, is two blocks from the Spindle facilities, he said, “and there’s a new road right to our facility.”

Making San Luis II and Spindle even more attractive logistically is the recently completed highway bypass that links San Luis with I-8, the South’s major east-west interstate freeway.

“Before, the trucks had to go through Yuma, about a 90 minute trip” Chavez said. “Now, they’re on I-8 20 minutes after leaving Spindle.”

There also are improvements south of the border. Mexico’s Highway 2, which Chavez said goes into the interior of Mexico, is being improved, and the work should be completed by the end of the year.

“That’s going to be a big plus, and there’s a coastal highway along the Sea of Cortez that’s also being improved,” Chavez said.

Spindle’s expanded facilities include 27 loading docks, he said, and a covered receiving dock of more than 10,000 square feet. To complete the package, Spindle makes available office space for rent to its customers, Chavez said.

There is a move under way by politicians on both sides of the border to permit all motorists to use San Luis II. As of now, the U.S. side of the port supports commercial traffic only with three incoming lanes and two outgoing lanes, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. There also is a dedicated lane for the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program.

San Luis II, designed to operate 24 hours a day, is projected to be able to handle 650 trucks daily within 20 years, according to CBP.

The new port also may ease crowding at two other western land ports, Otay Mesa/San Ysidro and Nogales, Chavez said.

“We offer a good alternative to the Otay Mesa or Nogales crossings, because we have cooling facilities right on the border and the distance is minor,” he said. “And we’re not nearly as backlogged as the other two crossings.”

Spindle’s customers are not limited to importers of Mexico grown produce.

“We operate year-round, because we are the receiving port for a lot of produce going to Mexico,” Chavez said.

Major export commodities for Spindle are apples and pears from the Pacific Northwest in the fall and winter and summer fruit and vegetables from California, he said.

The recent U.S. proposal to permit Mexican truck/trailer rigs into the U.S., should it be accepted by both countries, is another bright spot for the San Luis fresh produce industry — especially if Mexico rescinds the retaliatory tariffs it imposed.

“Our biggest problem has been these duties have just raised hell with the exports,” Chavez said. “Once they eliminate the duties, our business will increase 30% almost overnight.”