Borderlands is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of United States-Mexico cross-border trucking and trade. This week: Texas fleets seek foreign drivers to solve labor shortage; Nuvocargo names new head of engineering; Union Pacific-sponsored training center to open in New Mexico; and Mexican resident pleads guilty in double-brokering scheme.
Texas fleets seek out foreign drivers to solve labor shortage
A lack of available workers willing to drive trucks has become so severe in South Texas that fleets are looking to foreign operators to fill employment gaps, officials said.
Laredo, Texas-based Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) has partnered with Entra Business Solutions to create a program recruiting drivers from the Dominican Republic who are interested in coming to America to work as truckers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Entra Consulting is a Houston-based company that works in various industries, including transportation, logistics, technology, energy, manufacturing, construction and more.
“We are connecting the drivers in the Dominican Republic with companies here in the U.S.,” Ricardo Colmenter, director at Entra Business Solutions, told FreightWaves. “The idea is to have a robust database of drivers that we prescreen and for companies here in the U.S. to find in that database the right person for their workforce.”
Candidates from the Dominican Republic who wish to apply for trucking jobs in Texas must have a clean criminal record, be able to pass a medical exam and possess previous work experience as a transport driver.
“We prescreen and do a background check in order to have a robust profile of each individual that may be a candidate to be a sponsor by one of the companies here in the U.S. in order to work as a driver,” Colmenter said. “We are working very closely with all the stakeholders in order to develop this structure.”
The program has about 400 candidates from the Dominican Republic, along with some from Ecuador and Mexico. After candidates complete the first level of screening, they must study and be able to pass a driver’s license exam from the state of Texas.
Entra also provides an online platform for candidates to obtain basic English language skills to allow them to read and comprehend traffic signs, directions and communicate in the U.S.
Once candidates have been prescreened and receive a license, they become part of Entra’s database for trucking companies seeking drivers. The candidate’s profiles will be evaluated by carriers. Drivers selected will go through the initial processing for an H-2B visa, which allows U.S. employers or agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the country to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs.
Candidates will have to pay some upfront costs to participate in the program, such as fees for medical exams. Other expenses, such as lodging and commercial driver’s license training, will be assumed by the carriers sponsoring the drivers.
Entra and TAMIU have been consulting with several carriers in Laredo that work in different industries such as oil and gas, as well as some general cargo transporters.
“At [TAMIU’s] Office of Global Initiatives/Binational Center, we just created a binational group of trucking companies and customs agents so that they can speak to each other,” Maria Calderon, TAMIU’s assistant vice president of global initiatives. “We are a hub of everything that happens here in Laredo, and we know the trucking companies by first name and they know us.”
Candidates for the trucking jobs will also be paid the same wages as drivers in the U.S., Colmenter said. After going through the application, screening and training process, Dominican drivers, as well as candidates from Ecuador and Mexico, could be working in Laredo by June or July 2023.
“The idea is just to promote legal immigration to help both countries, the receptor and the host country in terms of mitigating the unemployment in the Dominican Republic and for the logistic needs that we have in the U.S.,” Colmenter said.
The port of entry in Laredo is the busiest commercial land border crossing in the United States. It ranks No. 2 overall among commercial gateways in August, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed by WorldCity. Laredo’s total trade with the world was $27.5 billion in August.
About 8,000 cargo trucks cross between Mexico and the United States through Laredo every day. In 2021, Laredo handled 5.1 million commercial truck shipments.
The idea to connect drivers from the Dominican Republic with Texas trucking companies came about when TAMIU hosted a delegation of government representatives from the country who visited Port Laredo to study cross-border operations.
“As an international university, we have an agreement with the foreign ministry of the Dominican Republic, and from time to time the Dominican ministers and vice ministers come up here to the border to understand how our largest inland port in the world works,” Calderon said. “During one of their frequent visits, they mentioned that they have a high unemployment rate in their country. When you have high employment and we have a great need for drivers, that’s when the idea was born.”
Watch: What is the truck driver recruiting situation like?
Nuvocargo names new head of engineering
Logistics startup Nuvocargo recently announced it has added former Shopify executive Nicholas Simmons as the company’s head of engineering.
Simmons will help develop the Nuvocargo platform and expand the company’s engineering team. New York-based Nuvocargo is a digital logistics platform for cross-border trade between the U.S. and Mexico.
“Global commerce is a domain that really resonates with me, and Nuvocargo is well positioned to revolutionize the movement of goods across the world’s most important trade lane,” Simmons said in a statement.
Simmons has over 20 years of experience building software products with a variety of different languages, frameworks, operating systems and platforms at a variety of high-profile technology companies. Before joining Nuvocargo, Simmons served as director of engineering at Shopify, where he helped scale the organization from 50 to 2,500 engineers.
Simmons holds a master’s in engineering and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Concordia University in Montreal.
Union Pacific-sponsored training center opens in New Mexico
The Union Pacific Industrial Careers Academy will offer training in logistics, warehousing, CDL training, manufacturing and other careers. Union Pacific is providing a $350,000 grant to DACC for the academy.
The training center is designed to help Sunland Park and Santa Teresa, New Mexico, residents develop skills and training sought by area employers. DACC is located near the U.S.-Mexico port of entries in Santa Teresa and El Paso, Texas.
Mexican resident pleads guilty in double-brokering scheme
Alexis Castillo Padilla, a resident of Tijuana, Mexico, recently pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges for a scheme that targeted trucking companies and freight brokers in Southern California.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Padilla, 45, took part in a double-brokering scheme in which he used a trucking company’s stolen identity to agree to make freight deliveries. Instead of delivering the cargo, Padilla posed as a shipper and “re-brokered” the loads to other carriers.
Once the deliveries were made, Padilla would collect payments as though he had made the deliveries and did not pay the trucking companies that actually delivered the cargo.
Most of the double brokering scheme was orchestrated from Tijuana, authorities said. Padilla was arrested in Italy and extradited to the U.S. on May 27.
As a part of his plea agreement, Padilla has agreed to pay at least $239,904 in restitution to the victims of his crimes. He is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 7 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
More articles by Noi Mahoney