Mexico's dynamic north drives change
The techies fuel-injecting the economy helped vote Vicente Fox into office Sunday.
CIUDAD JUREZ, MEXICO
At the sprawling Delphi Automotive Systems campus in this US-Mexico border city, the older managers and administrators refer to the complex's technical center as "our Generation X building."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
More than half of the center's 1,000 engineers and designers are under 35, drawn from all over Mexico to work in automotive design and development.
"We're actually developing products here, which is unusual for Mexico," says systems manager Jerry Haller. "Our people are dealing with Detroit, Japan, China, and Europe every day."
Delphi's Jurez operations - 25,000 employees and growing, with tasks as close to the industry's cutting edge as anywhere - are a shining example of the advancement of northern Mexico. They are also a reflection of the young, urban, better-educated Mexico that is eager to compete in the global economy.
It is this Mexico that brought down the country's aging regime in Sunday's elections. In its place president-elect Vicente Fox promises a greater focus on education and global competition.
A broad swatch of Mexico, stretching from Mexico City northward along corridors linking urban centers, leads the way in this modernization. Every day, the country's northern tier is adding new industrial facilities, world-class manufacturing plants, and technological schools that are putting northern Mexico on the global economic map.
And every week, hundreds of Mexicans migrate north, attracted by jobs, a sense of opportunity, and an openness to the entrepreneurial spirit.
Yet, Mexico's northern half starkly contrasts with its south - where states like Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Campeche are falling farther behind in income and education levels, in technological and social development. While what is increasingly called Mexico's "dynamic triangle" - beginning at Mexico City and extending to the western and eastern edges of the US-Mexico border - continues its advance into the global economy, the south remains focused on traditional industries: lumber, agriculture, minerals.
Delphi continues to expand in Jurez on what used to be cotton fields, for example. In Guerrero and Chiapas, social turmoil holds back development as subsistence farmers continue age-old fights over small plots of land.
This north-south, two-tier development is causing alarm bells among social analysts. In a recent report on Mexico's prospects for development in 2020, Mexico City's College of Architects warns that the divide will worsen without remedial attention.
The north's ability to take advantage of the north American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in particular "represents an opportunity for the country within the broader context of economic globalization," the 2020 report concludes. "However this also risks widening the [north's] economic and, particularly, social divide from the rest of the country."
Experts say the next decade will be crucial to finding ways to integrate the south into the country's development. Otherwise, a split could occur.
And while Mr. Fox says the challenge of redressing regional backwardness is complex, he also demonstrates an awareness of Mexico's divide and a desire to address it. At his first post-election meeting with foreign journalists this week, Fox offered two ideas to get the south moving - tax abatements on investments in lagging southeastern states, and promoting genuine decentralization by putting more resources in states' hands.