Americas Now... Made in Mexico

Published 08 October 13 01:38 PM

In the eyes of many world travelers, Tijuana Mexico has long been seen as little more than a tourist trap across the US border for cheap souvenirs and tequila and for its prostitutes peddling their services on the back streets of Avenida Revolucion. Its negative image cemented further by memories of violent turf battles in the streets between drug gangs and police in the not so distant past particularly this shootout back in 2008 that saw kindergarten children caught in the crossfire, having to be rescued from harms way by authorities. And today visitors here often see daily arrests of criminal suspects outside Tijuana’s souvenir shops. One shop owner hoping tourists might focus on more positive attributes like Tijuana’s favorite son legendary rock musician Carlos Santana. Santana aside what has gone virtually unnoticed here by the outside world is Tijuana’s extraordinary transformation in the last decade as a world class manufacturing center with armies of highly skilled Mexican workers. 165 thousand of them showing up for work each dayfor 600 hundred top foreign national companies here that are producing billions of dollars in exports each year. A “business boom” said to be directly responsible for turning this once impoverished town of 3 million citizens into a modern middle class metropolis -- with elegant gated communities rivaling those across the border in San Diego, California. Housing developments built not from the “drug money” of Mexico’s narcotics gangs but from the hard earned pesos of an exploding working middle class moving into them. A point man for Tijuana’s rise as a global manufacturing giant is Tijuana native Flavio Olivieri that is CEO of the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation. His nonprofit agency facilitating is the arrival of foreign multinational companies keen on doing business in Tijuana. He says they are a link between the companies and the government agencies and all of the services required to do business in Tijuana. Currently they have about 52 industrial parks that house close to 600 companies and manufacturing facilities. And they also have Samsung from Korea. They manufacture here their large format TV sets and their smart TV sets. And not just a handful of them, but 17 million Samsung flat screen TVs with their “Made in Mexico” stamp are exported each year from Tijuana to retailers just across the border in San Diego and across the United States - and to the European continent. As well Japanese electronics giant Sony has made Tijuana a major manufacturing base for its flat screen TVs.Toyota has a huge plant on the outskirts of Tijuana producing the popular “Tacoma” pickup truck for export in the United States. US aerospace giant Honeywell employs nearly 15 thousand local workers manufacturing aerial defense systems for the US military.And San Diego based 3DRobotics has made Tijuana its manufacturing hub for its highly popular amateur unmanned aerial vehicles known as ‘quad copters” selling in most countries around the world. So impressive are Tijuana’s manufacturing capabilities and output that the city of San Diego has become the first US city to open a binational affairs office in Tijuana to encourage more US-Mexico business partnerships says office director Mario Lopez. ATijuana has born Mexican American who commutes to and from Tijuana almost daily by San Diego’s trolley line to the US-Mexico border. Mario Lopez says: “We think of this as a mega region the only way to really thrive instead of competing instead of looking at each other on different terms is actually creating synergy that’s the only way in the long term that we’re going to be able to compete with other places in the world.” Though, “being able to compete,” say human rights groups, should not come at the expense of the Mexicans doing the work here, who they claim have historically been among the most exploited in the world. While industrial parks like these across Tijuana have created thousands of jobs, there remains a contentious issue with many workers: Low wages. The minimum wage in Mexico, for example, is almost five times lower than the 7 dollars and 25 cents an hour workers earn in the United States.Admittedly a controversial issue, says Tijuana’s business facilitator Flavio Olivieri. He tells us the hour wage is about one dollar that is fifty cents. Well it is not a lot of money compared to the US. It is more than other parts of the world and Mexico.And people with that wage are able to get their benefits and be able to get insurance and loans for buying a house and they get all the medical services they require. Olivieri says an example of how working conditions and benefits have improved here in recent years is the US Company DJO Global and its manufacturing plant in Tijuana voted one of the top 3 “Best Places to Work” in Mexico for two years running. Its 2,000 employees assembling orthopedic products here are offered everything from free college education - providing they stay with and move up in the company to home loans to free health careto a weekly discount Farmers Market - set up out front of the plant to save employees the time and expense of food shopping elsewhere each week. To a “Hollywood Star” style “Walk of Fame” for “Employees of the month” meant to boost morale.To this music system in the plant’s cafeteria “Karaoke Optional” We requested an opportunity to interview some of the floor workers here -- but the company told us none were willing to take part.We were, instead, offered an interview with an employee from the Human Resources department. Mildred Herrera Martinez claims the company changed her life for the better 13 years ago when she started work here on the production line at the legal working age in Mexico of 14. Her hourly wage has risen from 1 dollar fifty cents to 5 dollars an hour - earning her 40 dollars a day - 200 dollars a week. She worked her way up from the production line and after, they helped her finish university. And now she has risen to a position with Human Resources. Tijuana’s business leaders say the city’s manufacturing boom is slowly sending a message to its American neighbors to the north that Mexicans - when given the opportunity -- are capable of and happy to find jobs in their own country rather than crossing the border illegally for employment in the United States. Flavio Olivieri says: “You know the perception of Mexico has been very negative...and played very strongly by the media and downplaying the capabilities...and the opportunities with Mexico. And I think Americans can really notice the partnership...that could be developed with Mexico...because we complement each other...and we can be more competitive if we work together.” As for the issue of crime and security in Tijuana - Olivieri says drug war violence today is almost non-existent around the city. And while every day crime still exists, he says, it’s no more than in other major cities around the world. Flavio Olivieri thinks what really shows that crime is not a factor is the growth of companies. They continue to see existing companies to invest more and more and expand and expand. Tijuana’s future, he says, is brighter than it’s ever been and thanks to a more highly trained work force capable of higher standard production methods. That is meeting the demands of more and more US companies opening manufacturing plants here. That has Mexicans, these days, feeling quite proud.Tijuana is making its mark as a global manufacturing leader. 

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