Michael Acosta, associate director at the Texas Centers for Border Economic Development on the UTEP campus, is working to establish a high-tech business incubator in El Paso that would provide opportunities for young professionals, existing businesses, or high-tech start-ups to develop their ideas. He hopes the incubator will tie in with research at UTEP, New Mexico State, and Mexican universities. UTEP, in particular, has strong telecommunications, computer engineering, and computer science programs.
Besides UTEP, the human-capital push will come from the e.Mexico platform itself. Under a program Mr. Holguin calls “Two Nations, One Cubicle,” binational teams will work on both sides of the border, solving business problems as they train. The program calls for 50 corporate sponsors that will fund a three-year program for 20 workers (10 from each country) at a cost of $100,000 per year per worker. Each corporate sponsor is to put up $2 million each year for three years, for a $6 million total investment, and in return will have a team of 20 professionals ready to work in the international marketplace. With 50 such sponsors, the entire program would create a labor pool of 1,000 skilled high-tech specialists.
Mr. Holguin predicts that the program will address the shortage of technical workers in the area and will create highly skilled teams whose work will more than compensate the sponsors for their initial investments. Moreover, he says, the 1,000 high-tech workers would have the impact of 10,000 maquiladora workers on the local economy. Salaries on both sides of the border would be equal, giving sponsors a “single billable [work] force,” which would help raise wages in Mexico.
“The border needs to be seamless, and it’s not going to be as long as there are major economic differences,” Mr. Holguin says. “If we do it in a balanced way, then the Mexicans will stay in Mexico because they want to stay in their homeland. They want to stay with their families.”
Despite the challenges, proponents of El Paso’s efforts to develop a high-tech industry say the city is perfectly situated to implement President Fox’s e.Mexico program and to create a high-tech industry along the U.S.-Mexico border. They point to El Paso’s location at the midway point along the border, and the fact that it’s equidistant between Los Angeles and Houston. They also point to the fact that the El Paso–Ciudad Juarez area has a high concentration of fiber-optic lines and is located at the convergence of two countries and three states.
Mr. Guerra says economic studies predict that the border region will have a surplus of labor over the next 20 to 30 years, at a time when other metropolitan areas will suffer labor shortages. And Mr. Holguin adds that no one understands the border market, with its bilingual and bicultural subtleties, better than El Pasoans.
“We know the border, and the border is different,” he states. “It’s not the United States and it’s not Mexico. I can wear my American hat one day, and transform and put on my Mexican hat the next day, and it’s very natural.”
To make his vision a reality, Mr. Holguin has recruited a network of strategic partners from around the country, including Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo Bank, and Hispanic Business Inc.
For now, Mr. Holguin says his company has gained what he calls “first-mover advantage” over competitors (particularly Microsoft) to implement e.Mexico. But maintaining that advantage means acting quickly and delivering the potential benefits on time. He says that being the first in a given market and establishing and maintaining leadership often brings about partnerships with major companies willing to settle for a supportive rather than competitive role. Such a scenario would be good for e.holguingroup, El Paso, and the entire U.S.-Mexico border, whose future may depend on the success of El Paso’s model for future high-tech initiatives.
Net Across the River
The following Internet sites relate to El Paso’s initiative to foster high-tech commerce on both sides of the Rio Grande.
Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce (www.elpaso.org): Links to city, county, and nonprofit agencies as well as other local resources.
Mexico Online(www.mexonline.com/mexagncy.htm): Links to major offices in the Mexican government, as well as development banks, chambers of commerce, and state trade offices.
Texas Centers for Border Economic Development (www.utep.edu/txcr): Provides information about the center located on the University of Texas El Paso campus.