I was Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lea Marquez Peterson’s sidekick earlier this week for my first trade mission trip to Mexicali, capital city of the Mexican state of Baja California.
(Many Arizonans are probably familiar with the Baja California metropolis of Tijuana – sometimes called a mini Mexico City – just south of San Diego.)
Here are my takeaways from this trip to Baja California’s other big city, and its seat of government and industry.
A growing metro area only four hours from Phoenix
Mexicali, the twin city of the California city of Calexico, is about a 30-minute drive from Yuma and roughly four hours from Phoenix, which makes it closer than Hermosillo, the capital city of our neighboring Mexico state of Sonora.
Similar in size to Tucson at around 1,000,000 inhabitants, its dry weather feels like home.
A city on the rise
Mexicali is bustling with activity, and U.S. brands like Starbucks and Walmart are all over. You can sense the growth of the city.
Mexicali is growing faster than the rest of Mexico. Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry. You can spot advertising for all sorts of procedures when roaming the town.
Craft beer is another emerging sector. The locals boast that the city’s beer is the best in the nation, and its wineries are also on the rise.
The city is working with Yuma to build cross-border tourism opportunities and recognize that the “two-nation vacation” is not just for trips between Arizona and Sonora.
A region that’s winning with trade
Arizona’s efforts to increase trade with Mexico continue to be noticed. Because of the precedent set by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and his Sonora counterpart, Claudia Pavlovich, this model relationship has opened eyes in other Mexican states.
Add the governors’ work to the outreach of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and a just-completed state legislative trade delegation to Mexico City and Guanajuato, we may be entering the golden age of trade with Mexico.
Arizona’s relationship with Baja California is gaining momentum. It became evident when Arizona leaders such as Sandra Watson, the CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority, signed an MOU with her counterpart in April during meetings with the Arizona Mexico Commission.
The goal of our trip was to help build and wire relationships in order to take advantage of the agreement. The Tucson Hispanic Chamber and Arizona Chamber put into place a new MOU with the Mexicali EDC on this trip.
The Tucson Hispanic Chamber also announced during the trip the addition of a Chamber Ambassador to manage the relationship with Mexicali and Baja California. Vladimir Calderón, a Mexican attorney, will serve as a point person to assist Mexican businesses in engaging in Arizona and to build connections with Baja California.
We visited with two Mexicali-area diputados. They could not have been warmer or clearer in their desire to do more commercial activity with Arizona.
While trade with its neighbor, California is far greater than with any other state, Baja California is looking to diversify and not put all of its economic eggs in one basket. Mexicali’s leaders were aware of Arizona’s overall strong business climate, points Lea and I made sure to reinforce.
We also met with about 20 small and medium-sized companies either doing business in Arizona or looking to do so. Some businesses are looking to innovative methods to expand, such as using e-commerce. One entrepreneur we met sells salsa and another jewelry. This was a reminder of the good for businesses of all sizes – from multinationals to start-ups – we can do if we modernize NAFTA.
More voices in the chorus for a modernized NAFTA
Not surprisingly, the conversation turned to trade since NAFTA has been crucial to the growth of industry in Mexicali. Mexicali is home to a growing aerospace industry with U.S.-based companies such as Honeywell and Gulfstream having significant operations in the state.
All of the political and business leaders we met with shared our general position on NAFTA. Governments do not create cross-border jobs; the private sector does. However, governments can provide the framework for job growth. It is clear that a modernized NAFTA is an essential part of that job-growing framework.