NOGALES, Ariz. — Fresh produce salesmen say there’s no place like Nogales.


“The Nogales deal definitely has its own flavor and its own characteristics,” said Danny Mandel, a principal and chief executive officer for SunFed. “It’s a great place to live and work.”


“I’m a big, big fan of Nogales,” said Jesse Driskill, operations manager for Meyer LLC.


Earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes are nonexistent in the region, and beaches, mountains and the cultural amenities of Tucson and Phoenix are just a few hours away.


“Arizona has something about it that appeals to me like no place I ever lived or traveled to,” said Jim Cathey, general manager and sales manager for Del Campo Supreme Inc.


He said he appreciates the Mexican culture, the close-knit families and the respect shown by most young Hispanics.


“We wouldn’t trade this life for one anyplace else,” he said.


The Nogales produce deal has its own distinct flavor as well.


“The exciting part for me working out of Nogales is that it’s such a large entry point for produce into the U.S.,” said JJ Badillo, director of diversified products for Calavo Growers Inc.


Badillo, who also has worked in California, Texas and Florida, said the town presents a “thrilling scenario” and emits a sense of energy from December through May with 1,000 trucks rumbling across the border daily.


The way the produce distribution systems funnel product into Nogales and Florida in the winter “creates a real neat dynamic and one that is an automatic buyer target,” he said.


“A lot of dynamic companies have grown from nothing in Nogales,” he added.


Setting the standard


Not only is Nogales the largest inland port in the world for fresh produce, Mandel said, but the local industry has spearheaded a movement toward higher-quality vegetables, “and other parts of the produce industry in the U.S. are struggling to play catch-up.”


Billions of dollars worth of commerce goes through the city every year, providing plenty of opportunities for work, Driskill said.


But there can be a bit of a cultural barrier.


“Nogales was part of Mexico longer than it was part of the U.S.,” he said. “It’s enormously helpful to speak Spanish.”


There’s been no place like Nogales to learn how to sell produce, Cathey said.


A salesman can work a lot of different deals in a lot of different places to earn a “bachelor’s degree in Produce 101,” he said.


“But if you want a master’s, you’ve got to come to Nogales.”


That’s because, at the older warehouses that represent what Nogales stood for for so long, “this is nothing more than a terminal market,” he said.


Salesmen had to be prepared to sell what came in each day because there was no place to store it for days on end.


“It was an auction every day. You had to be able to sell and market product,” Cathey said.


“I think that made for guys who were really, really good at what they do.”