This article was featured in the NY Times yesterday. Here’s some of the highlights:
When the latest bloody headlines from the drug war in Mexico reach headquarters in New York, Ken Chandler, the manager of an American electronics manufacturing plant here, jumps on the phone. He is not begging to come home. He is begging to stay. “We try to put them at ease, to say it is not time to pack up,” said Mr. Chandler, who oversees the company’s operations in this border city, where the military arrived last week to help purge drug cartel members from the police department.
Not that his employer, Spellman High Voltage, needs much assurance. Like a crop of other manufacturers at the border, including six companies in this city alone, Spellman is expanding its operations, with a new plant under construction after making a calculation that offers one of the starker paradoxes of these violent days in Mexico. Despite the bleak outlook the drug war summons, the Mexican economy is humming along, not without warning signs, but growing considerably faster than that of the United States.
Over all, jobs in Mexico’s manufacturing sector increased 8.2 percent to 1.8 million as of January, the most recent figures available, driven mostly by what Mexican officials called regaining health in the auto and electronics industries, the engine of the economy along the border.
Mostly American-owned and in border states, the plants import raw materials duty free and export assembled products, lowering the cost of goods in the United States and providing jobs that pay more than the Mexican average (typically $8 to $16 per day on the assembly line) but a lot less than American wages.
Some of the new or expanding plants come at the expense of plant closings in the United States. Electrolux, which makes washers, dryers and other home products, closed a plant in 2009 in Iowa but opened one in Juárez last month that is expected to employ 400 people. Others are from investors farther afield. Foxconn, a Taiwanese firm that makes iPhones, Dell computers and other electronics, is one of several Asian companies taking root. It opened a plant in Juárez last summer. Down the coast from here, Posco, a Korean steel manufacturer, has announced plans to expand its operations with a second plant that will employ 300 people by 2013. Several other companies plan to built or expand in other states as well.
Over all, the Mexican economy, the second largest in Latin America after Brazil, grew 5.5 percent last year, its fastest pace in a decade, and is expected to grow 4.5 percent this year, driven largely by manufacturing as well as internal growth from an expanding middle class. The American economy, by contrast, is expected to grow between 2.7 percent and 2.9 percent in 2011, the Federal Reserve projected late last month.
Economists say Mexico’s growth would be even stronger without the cartel violence, which in the last five years has left more than 40,000 people dead, according to the count by national newspapers.
Why do they have to put it that way? Over 90% of those killed were narcos killing each other or being killed by police and/or the army. The other 10% consists primarily of the army or police killed fighting against them. There has been little “collateral damage”, as Rumsfeld used to like to say…
The Bank of Mexico reports foreign investment was $17.7 billion last year, far off pre-recession levels of $25 billion and fed in good measure by a single transaction, the purchase of a one of the country’s largest beer companies by Heineken.
Security costs are rising to protect property and shipments, and safety remains the top concern expressed by potential investors, said Bob Cook, the president of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Commission, which helps recruit businesses to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico’s most violent city. “But we are still working with more companies now than we did three years ago,” he said. Business is business, and the proximity to the United States is hard to pass up. The rising cost of labor, transportation and the renminbi have made some companies reconsider Mexico instead of China, he contended. Despite several murders a day, trade between Juárez and Texas rose 47 percent last year to $71.1 billion, he said.
“Central location, great infrastructure, suppliers and labor pool,” he said. “Those things haven’t been tampered with by organized crime.”
See the full story here.