A prototypical border economy plans to transform itself into a hub for U.S.-Mexico e-commerce.
The Rio Grande cuts a pass through the mountains, creating a corridor that gives El Paso its name and that in horse-and-train days made U.S.-Mexico trade easier. Today, the region encompassing El Paso (Texas), Ciudad Juarez (Mexico), and Las Cruces (New Mexico) boasts the largest population along the U.S.-Mexico border, with more than 2 million people, and is home to a vibrant maquiladora industry.
But El Paso is thinking beyond manufacturing plants and warehouses. The new millennium has spawned a virtual business world, where commerce increasingly takes place via the Internet. And the prototypical border city is vying to position itself as a hub in the international e-commerce explosion.
Mexican President Vicente Fox has vowed to bring Mexico into the 21st century through his e.Mexico program, which will connect the nation to the Internet via 9,500 Internet-based communication centers. The program includes governmental and educational components as well as an e-commerce segment designed to wire Mexico for trade, beginning with the United States and expanding to Latin America and beyond.
On June 17, the Mexican government announced that the facilitator for the e-commerce project is to be El Paso–based e.holguingroup, a company that has developed three-dimensional graphics to promote ease of use on the Internet. After its launch, the e.Mexico site will re-create a traditional Mexican plaza, with kiosks, fountains, and doors leading to each of Mexico’s 32 states. Inside the doors, users can gain access to the goods and services produced in that state.
“Our interface could make a major difference in allowing people to go to a touch-sensitive screen, get what they want … and make a smooth transition without having to worry about computer ease and Internet ease,” says CEO Hector Holguin. “We feel we can make a major impact there.”
This so-called “e.Mexico platform” is designed to transcend what’s currently found on the Internet – written words, limited graphics, and short multimedia clips – to become what Mr. Holguin describes as an art form for advanced bilingual communications. He feels this is an innovative, high-tech approach to create a system within the comfort zone of the Mexican citizenry, which has only a 3 percent computer and Internet literacy rate.
Major firms with cross-border interests will be featured on the e.Mexico platform, organized to offer a cohesive array of bilingual services and e-services. The e.holguingroup will establish a rental and marketing fee for each tenant and expects to receive a fee or commission from the transactions that occur on the platform.
But the larger goal, Mr. Holguin says, is to develop a seamless network of e-commerce along the entire border that eventually will spread throughout Mexico and key U.S. cities. “If we can show both presidents a program that can make a difference, and the benefits can create multiples of wealth along the border, I think they’ll be very supportive of it,” Mr. Holguin says.
The e.Mexico platform stands as the centerpiece of El Paso’s effort to transform itself from a manufacturing and transportation economy to a high-tech hub. Ruben Guerra, chairman of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce and an El Paso investment adviser, says the city wants to raise its standard of living and increase its per capita income, which, at about $17,000, is among the lowest in the nation for a city of its size. “The maquiladoras have brought a lot of activity to the area, but what they have not brought us are the higher-tech industries and the types of jobs necessary to raise the standard of living,” Mr. Guerra says.
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