A Denver-based group that helps companies expand their markets across the hemisphere has announced a humanitarian aid and business development project aimed at reducing poverty and violence in the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez and other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gil Cisneros, president and CEO of the Chamber of the Americas, said the idea for the project emerged after members of his organization heard former state legislator Morgan Smith present Juarez's homicide figures relative to large U.S. cities.

"It's difficult to understand that the statistics represent real people whose story often doesn't get heard," Cisneros told Efe.

"And we also know that the photos and stories Smith shared with us are just a small part of ... the suffering of those trapped by poverty and violence in Juarez," he added.

After completing his term as a lawmaker in the mid-1990s, Smith served a stint as agriculture commissioner and held other senior government posts. Now retired, Smith has spent the past decade studying U.S.-Latin American relations and writing on the subject.

Smith said he will now focus on the problems in the U.S.-Mexico border region, an area he visits every month to report "first hand on how schools and businesses are being run in that region and what people are doing to survive."

"In Ciudad Juarez, the homicide rate is 329 cases (annually) per 100,000 people. By comparison, the city of New York has a murder rate of six cases per every 100,000 people," Smith said.

Ciudad Juarez has a population of 1.3 million, while New York's five boroughs are home to 8.2 million inhabitants.

Cisneros said the Colorado business leaders will work together on several humanitarian projects "to alleviate the pain and suffering in the region," which includes Juarez and neighboring El Paso, Texas, as well as the Mexican towns of Palomas and Ascension.

The first project is underway and involves making and selling hats, while future initiatives will help schools and people caring for disabled family members.

"None of these activities by themselves will help eliminate poverty or reduce violence. But the people stay there and that's perhaps the best hope for a brighter future," Smith said.

Ciudad Juarez, a gritty border metropolis that first gained notoriety in the early 1990s when young women began to disappear in the area, has been wracked by violence among drug cartels fighting for control of smuggling routes into the United States.

The city has accounted for about 30 percent of the more than 40,000 murders committed in Mexico since late 2006.

The more than 3,500 homicides committed in 2010 in Juarez earned it a reputation as Mexico's most violent city. The murder rate remains high but has slowed in recent months, with more than 1,000 killed in organized crime-related violence thus far this year.