Education must be top priority for Juarez

By Nancy J. Gonzalez

The maquiladora program in Mexico was stablished on 1965. One of the pioneers of this industrial activity in Mexico was Jaime Bermudez Cuaron.

His love for Ciudad Juarez and his determination to boost economic development in the border region inspired him to help launch production sharing or maquiladoras in Mexico.

Jaime Bermudez Cuaron shared with MexicoNow the details about the journey to bring the maquiladoras to the border region and his insights about the future of this industrial activity in Ciudad Juarez.

Groundbreaking and first building block for RCA facility in Juarez

HOW DID MAQUILADORAS START IN MEXICO?

Jaime Bermudez: The maquiladora was born in Ciudad Juarez; there is no doubt about it. In the 60s, the U.S. Government announced the suspension of the Bracero program and therefore thousands of Mexicans would come back to the country. We had to do something about it and the government came out with an aggressive infrastructure program to employ the braceros in the public works throughout the border cities.

The Borderland National Program was a government non-recoverable trust fund to create infrastructure along the northern Mexican border. It was a huge success, especially for Juarez. My uncle, Don Antonio (Bermudez) was the director for this program, a position he took two years after he had left PEMEX, where he was Director General. His idea was to link the business community with the Government to create economic growth in the border region. It worked quite well.

The Borderland National Program created infrastructure in Juarez such as the Camino Real hotel, the Convention Center, the Crafts Center, the racetrack and the rodeo grounds, among others. All the border cities got similar infrastructure from Tijuana all the way to Matamoros. This program was important because now the border had better infrastructure and the business community was working as a whole.

The infrastructure was created, but we needed an economic activity to boost the region. The business community in Juarez no longer wanted the local economy to depend on bars, cabarets, restaurants, brothels and divorces. We had regular meetings with Don Antonio and he helped us find a new economic activity for the city.

Don Antonio hired the firm of Arthur D. Little, the “Think-tank” consulting group in Boston, to develop a study about the industrial options for Ciudad Juarez. This was a comprehensive study and it included the maquiladoras and the development of industrial parks in the city. We loved the idea, but we needed to convince the Federal Government to embrace our proposal.

Back then, Urrutia Millan was the director of Fiscal Studies in Mexico. He was not happy about our proposal. His response was always “no”. We always highlighted the results of the program around the world, but he never changed his mind. We had two allies: Don Antonio and Octaviano Campo Salas, the Secretary for Industry and Trade.

We lobbied for a long time. I remember traveling so many times to Mexico City with Alfonso Murguia, Ilario Gabilondo and Fernando Borreguero. After a while Urrutia Millan left office and Gustavo Petricholi took his place. He embraced our proposal.

On June 18, 1965, the Mexican Federal Government authorized the maquiladora regime in the border. The document was signed here in Ciudad Juarez at the hotel San Antonio. Our allies, Don Antonio and Octaviano Campo Salas, were the witnesses for this historical event. This is how the maquiladora was born in Mexico.

Luis Videgaray, Ministry of Economy and Jaime Bermudez

AT THE BEGINNING, DID YOU BELIEVE THIS PROGRAM WOULD BE A SUCCESS?

We had no other option. This program was a success in other countries. We analyzed how it worked and we liked it. The results speak for themselves.

BUT FIFTY YEARS AFTER ITS CREATION, THE MAQUILADORA PROGRAM STILL HAS DEFICIENCIES; WHICH ARE THE CRITICAL ISSUES NOW?

Nowadays, the maquiladora has too many needs. For example, bureaucracy and permits must be streamlined.

Also, the waiting times are too long. We recently went to Canada and the waiting time for a truck to cross the border is around 15 minutes. The U.S. treats differently the northern and southern border; therefore, trade with Mexico in the southern border has more obstacles.

Furthermore, we have not been able to create a local supply chain. Every year, billions of dollars in raw material and products are imported to Mexico from around the world and only a small percentage is produced in this city. A lot of these products can be manufactured locally. I know it is not an easy task because there is global competition in the maquiladora supply chain market, but we can do it.

We also need more coordination between the business community and the local, State and Federal governments. This coordination is really important to succeed.

WHAT CONDITIONS ARE NEEDED TO TURN JUAREZ INTO A HIGH TECH MANUFACTURING CENTER?

The manufacturing in Juarez is evolving at a slow pace and education has a lot to do with that. I have always said that Mexico has three problems: The first one is education, the second one is education, and the third one is education.

The job creation in Juarez is tremendous. This year we set a new employment record. Our goal now must be to create more skilled and technical jobs. We need more high tech jobs in Juarez, but we need to have an educated population to bring these companies to the border. Of course, security is important, but I believe the top priority for the city must be education.

Index Juarez has now an award named after Jaime Bermudez Cuaron for maquiladoras that have been operating in the city for more than 40 years.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE EDUCATION IN MEXICO?

Education is a long term investment. What we do today will be a reflection of our future. Even though education is not a short-term endeavor, we have to start the change now. If we do not start soon to improve our education system, other countries will. The countries that succeed in education will take the market.

The border has a lot of advantages, such as its geographical location, but we must be competitive to excel. Ireland and Singapore invested on education and the results they got are very positive. It took them years to get the result they wanted but they are really competitive now.

We want to be part of the solution; therefore, we have an ongoing program to help local Junior High seniors to decide their vocation and identify their abilities. In the program they learn the education and job opportunities this city has and they decide whether they want to be engineers or doctors, gardeners, wrestlers, or baseball players. Kids this age need orientation to be aware of the opportunities out there waiting for them.

WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR JUAREZ THE NEXT DECADE?

I think Ciudad Juarez has a bright future, but it all depends on what we do today. If we do nothing, the result is nothing. The cooperation that exists between the business sector and government is crucial for Juarez´s future.

ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, WHICH HAS BEEN THE MOST IMPORTANT AWARD YOU HAVE RECEIVED?

Index named an award after me. I believe this award is the most important for me because is linked to the beginnings of the maquiladora. This award made me feel important and it is an honor for me.

DO YOU HAVE AN UNFULFILLED GOAL OR A PROJECT THAT EXCITES YOU?

Nowadays, I´m working on the education program we discussed before. This program takes most of my time. In Juarez we have 22,000 Junior-High seniors who need to be aware of the labor market and their reality. This age is crucial and a dangerous one; therefore, we are helping them to shape their future. In our program they learn about the opportunities they have to develop their abilities.