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Comment Archives: stories: Opinion: Mail

Re: “March 8th 2006

Thought I was kidding about corporate sell out of the US American worker? in today's LA Times: Moves to Baja Profit Tech Firms Low costs and links with San Diego have created an expanding medical device industry in the region, spurring new entrepreneurial dreams. By Evelyn Iritani, Times Staff Writer March 10, 2006 TIJUANA — This border city — perhaps best known for tunnel-digging drug smugglers, bottomless margaritas and maquiladoras that churn out cheap toys — is quietly transforming itself into a high-tech manufacturing hub. Although thousands of Baja California residents still live in squatter camps without electricity or running water, pockets of technical innovation are cropping up in unlikely places. A new report says northwest Mexico is reaping the benefits of an ambitious government program aimed at leveraging the region's low costs and proximity to leading-edge firms in San Diego. In heavily guarded industrial parks a few miles south of U.S. territory, Mexican workers are producing implantable medical devices and other sophisticated products for foreign firms eager to take advantage of lower production costs and hire high-skilled workers for bargain wages. Faced with fierce competition from China and other low-cost countries, dozens of plants in Baja closed their doors in 2001 and 2002, shedding about 51,000 jobs. But Baja officials said they have reversed that trend, overseeing the creation of 78,000 jobs in the last three years, many of them higher-paying positions. The region now boasts the highest average wages in Mexico. U.S. medical device firms such as Medtronic Inc. and DJ Orthopedics Inc. employ 23,700 people in Baja California, compared with 6,000 working in the industry in San Diego. Last year, Wilson Greatbatch Technologies Inc., a producer of components for implantable medical devices, closed its facility in Carson City, Nev., and opened a 144,000-square-foot plant here. Of the more than 60 medical device firms operating in Baja, at least 40 have U.S. parent companies and 13 of those have a significant San Diego presence, according to the report by San Diego Dialogue, which is affiliated with UC San Diego. Even veteran observers of Mexico such as Kenn Morris, one of the report's authors and a cross-border consultant, are impressed by the technical sophistication south of the border. Facilities there not only produce heart valves and pacemaker circuitry but provide parts for U.S. Longbow missiles and software programming for Samsung and other multinational firms. "It was a very big surprise to us that [the biomedical] industry we considered so strong in San Diego was more than three times as large in Baja California," Morris said. In Baja, companies can hire scientific talent at half the salary level of American tech centers and benefit from rent, utility and other costs that are at least 40% below the going rates in the U.S., according to executives here. Factories can supply U.S. firms that need a steady flow of components for their "just-in-time" production. Baja's economy still faces huge challenges. Tijuana's business leaders have warned the police that an escalation in kidnappings and violent crime could scare away investors, said Roberto Quijano, an attorney and official with Coparmex, a national business confederation. A big part of the problem, he said, is the shortage of adequate housing and social services for the 80,000 newcomers that stream into the city every year in search of work. Rapid development is also putting a strain on the region's water, sewage and energy systems. Along with crime and infrastructure problems, companies sometimes must grapple with the Mexican bureaucracy and frustrating delays — for both personnel and products — at U.S. border crossings. But John Riley, chief executive of BC Manufacturing, which helps set up and manage Mexican operations for foreign firms, said the biggest barrier to investment is perceptions. Many U.S. executives still need convincing that Mexico has grown beyond "a guy leaning against a lamppost with a beer in his hand and an antenna sticking out of his sombrero." Andrew Kinross, a medical device consultant, said some U.S. firms remained hesitant about moving sophisticated production to places like Mexico because of quality concerns. "If it's going into a person's body, it's got to be 100% perfect," he said. Medtronic's sprawling Tijuana facility, located in an industrial area minutes from the Otay Mesa border crossing, is evidence of Baja's ability to move beyond low-tech assembly jobs. Gerardo de la Concha, director of Medtronic Mexico, said many factories in Tijuana had been certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to produce the most sophisticated Class III devices, including those that could be implanted in people's bodies. "An engineer is an engineer," he said. "It's just a matter of the level of training you give to these people." De la Concha said he invests heavily in his 1,200 employees, giving technicians at least two weeks of training in a dummy laboratory before they join the production line. At a sterile "clean room" in Medtronic's plant here, rows of young women swathed from head to toe in protective clothing make aneurysm stent grafts by stitching rows of intricate rings made of advanced materials onto long polyester tubes. The stents are inserted into heart patients' blocked or weakened arteries to prevent them from collapsing. It takes 17 people a total of 12 hours to produce one aneurysm stent graft. Almost all of the company's raw materials must be imported because U.S. suppliers haven't migrated to the region. After mad cow disease surfaced in the U.S. in 2003, the Mexican government halted beef imports. De la Concha had to get special permission to import the bovine tissue used to make valves. But De la Concha said his Mexican factories could still make high-quality products at half of what it would cost in the United States and deliver them to Medtronic's Minnesota headquarters faster than factories in other parts of the world. "The barrier is more with the people on the U.S. side," he said. "It's a mental barrier, there really isn't a physical barrier." After losing thousands of television assembly and apparel jobs to low-cost competitors in China, Baja officials worked to replace them with higher-paying positions. To increase the state's allure, they offered tax breaks, training programs and other incentives. In the last two years, the state has attracted $4.1 billion in private investment. "If we were to base our competitiveness on low labor costs, we were destined to disappear," said Baja Economic Secretary Sergio Tagliapietra. Baja officials are now promoting the area's new image abroad, taking trade missions to Europe and Asia and opening trade offices in Tokyo, New York and Madrid. This technology boomlet has touched off a reverse brain drain, entrepreneurs and officials say. The growth is attracting ambitious engineers and programmers back to Baja from the U.S. as well as other parts of Mexico and stemming the exodus of talented Mexican graduates to the United States. Some of Mexico's scientists are also striking out on their own. In a cramped, three-room office over the El Franc taco shop and a video store in downtown Tijuana, three Mexican entrepreneurs are hatching a plan to grow their tiny company, Amplitec, into a biotech powerhouse. In just a few years, the six-person firm has carved out a reputation as one of the region's most sophisticated diagnostic labs, using high-tech equipment to extract the genetic blueprints that can reveal the paternity of a child. "We're five years into this, and we're past the no-return point," said co-founder Diego Guereña, 34, a molecular biologist who managed a lab in San Diego before launching his own company in 2001. "I feel that it's really beginning to happen." Guereña co-founded the firm with Alexei Licea, 37, a professor of biotechnology at the Ensenada Center for Higher Education and Scientific Research. In 2004, they brought in Marco Santillan, who had expertise in business development, to help sell their start-up to the world. Last year, the trio persuaded Baja officials to select Amplitec as the centerpiece for a biomedical cluster in the northern part of the state. The state government agreed to give them $200,000 for a new laboratory on the campus of Autonomous University of Baja California. In exchange, the firm agreed to serve as a teaching facility for students. By working closely with the university, Guereña hopes to build a pool of future employees for the biotech industry. "We cannot import people because that is too expensive," he said. Construction has not yet begun on the abandoned school that will house Amplitec's laboratory high on a hill overlooking downtown Tijuana. But during a stroll through the deserted classrooms, Santillan described the anticipated transformation of his firm's "diamond in the rough." The laboratory will have a clean room and a temperature-controlled environment to protect the firm's expensive equipment. "Baja has been known for its maquiladoras," said the 32-year-old Tijuana native, referring to the assembly plants that line the border. "We want it to be known for technology." Iritani was recently on assignment in Tijuana.

Posted by Charlie Michael on 03/10/2006 at 4:36 PM

Re: “March 8th 2006

There are a lot of parameters that affect us, besides illegal immigration. Just think, many Idahoans of Anglo ancestry illegally immigrated to Idaho and violated Native American treaties and accords. A big problem is the fact that Washington has mostly sold out the factories and manufacturing to foreign countries who regularly employ 'slave labor' - no benefits, to make products we buy. Walmart seems to promote that aspect, and it is catching on at Home Depot and myriad other US stores. Tons of factories have moved to Mexico, and get away with pollution, low wages, no benefits, and no tariff- hardly a benefit to the Mexican worker that wants to stay in Mexico and take care of the family needs. Housing in Mexico, for the regular working stiff family, amounts to a row house, 15 feet wide, and 30 feet long, that contains a kitchen, shower and sink, bedroom, family room, and costs $15,000. Criminals run most of the country, and there is no law outside of town, Money is worth less each day, while prices for goods steadily rise. Property deeds and titles are non-existent, and developed property brings risks of its own. Mexicans come here to build a stake, and mostly to return one day to the home20. However, our refuge brings peace and stability, something they cannot get at home. Employers here are willing to hire desperate people, because 1- they are motivated; 2- they work whatever whenever; 3- they pay more taxes than US citizens as they never settle up at the end of the year; 4-Mexians are less likely to complain or file a lawsuit; and the lower wages allows the business owner to compete in industry with lower profit margins. Mexicans spend their money in the local community and everyone, including most anglos, benefit from the business, including all taxpayers. Shut off the flow of that much needed cash in our present economy, and a whole lot of people will close and shut their doors and leave a wake of economical depression. In essence, you won't be able to buy a job. The people supplying the business, or the consumers of the final product will lose sales, affecting them even more. What ever is left will cause prices to rise. Which person in Idaho or California, or wherever is going to work harvesting a field, bent over all day, working piece work, rain, shine, wind, cold or hot? or work in a hot smelly laundry with all sorts of disease threats? At the same time, if we still made what we purchase, we all would have lots of work, but why blame some destitute soul for that? The fault lies in the voters that allow their reps to vote for their own agenda and pork, with out, or with little regard to true responsibility to represent the voter. Perhaps Bob Vasquez doesn't realize that the NEW JEW of the 21st century is going to be anybody with a Latino surname. People are out to crucify and fry any Hispanic, naturalized or not, born here or not, and their anger is venting towards all Latinos, Mexicans or Not. By Vasquez' own hand will he end up languishing. If you go back to 1970, when we all was being paid about $6/hr for construction work, had that wage kept up with inflation and colas, a journeyman tradesman would now be making upwards of $140/hr, in order to enjoy the same spending and purchasing base. What we make now is even less than what we made then, and you are knocking someone for making less than that. Again, the culprits are the politicians, guys like Clinton who established NAFTA, and china slave labor as the basis of Most Favored Nation. Politicians set up port duty to allow foreign goods to come on shore for sale to Americans, and don't charge adequate tariffs. Mainstay american companies, now manufacturing offshore, what we used to make in-house, are those to blame. Most Americans cannot even afford to buy American-made goods- that's how bad it's gotten. Countries that don't protect there people, insure clean property titles, or have laws that allow for true liberty- those governments are to blame- not the lowly guy just wanting to feed himself and his family. While we are off promoting the American way to those who aren't going to follow, no matter what, we should be here promoting American industry and feeding our own people and providing for those who need a hand. In the interim, don't just demand that people become an american overnight. Learn their language and customs, and stretch out your hand in friendship and help. We all have neighbors in need- Americans and foreigners. Once they follow our example and get on their feet, your example will conquer more that a million armies or laws. to do or be anything less is to promote homophobia and kaos.

Posted by Charlie Michael on 03/09/2006 at 12:24 PM

Re: “February 15, 2006

RE: Letter to the Editor titled "Food reviews”. I gotta agree with Darrin. Your restaurant reviews are consistently banal and misleading, too often reporting on the maudlin previous experiences, expectations and preconceptions of the reporter rather than the actual experience encountered. Word on the street is that you're soft on reviews because you only review places that place ads with you.

Posted by Eric P. Nielsen on 02/16/2006 at 9:19 PM

Re: “November 23, 2005

If the person who thinks Idaho sucks needs any help taking their stuff to the airport, I'll help.

Posted by Silence Dogood on 11/29/2005 at 9:18 AM

Re: “November 9, 2005

Different in that you hold yourselves to a significantly lower standard? Clearly.

Posted by Philip Prindeville on 11/09/2005 at 10:55 PM

Re: “November 2, 2005

"Anything, [...]--phone calls, e-mails, letters, comments on our Web site, even conversations on the street--are fair game for our MAIL unless you say it is not. Our rules have said this for some time." 'Not for publication' is pretty clearly saying it is not. But you excerpt and print it anyway: What's the point of having rules if you don't follow them? All other media outlets accept a standard format for letters to the editor and on-the-record interviews, and respect privacy for communications falling outside those bounds. Why should you be different? What virtue does the "Boise Weekly" possess (that I'm unaware of) that exempts you from fair play?

Posted by Philip Prindeville on 11/03/2005 at 1:10 PM

Re: “October 19, 2005

Yes, "anyone legally in the United States" is presumed innocent. People *not* legally in the United States are guilty of at least one crime (immigration fraud), and possibly others--it's a truism. Other persons here illegally, or on diplomatic status (for example), have separate and distinct definitions and protections: I'm not subdividing anyone: The law already does that for us. "Happenstance of their birthplace"? Anyone born on US soil is eligible to have US citizenship, even if their parents aren't. If people aren't US-born and stay home, then there is no problem, either. QED: there is no "happenstance" related to birthplace. There is only the illegal act of crossing the border cladestinely. While everyone might be created equal, it is you who seems to have forgotten that by free will some chose to become criminals. Criminals, by definition, have forfeited some of their rights (such as liberty for one, and the presumption of innocence, for another). Two: I'm not using the term in any other way than as it appears in the USC: "American persons" is a specific legal definition (means exactly what I said, a US citizen, resident alien, or visitor with a valid visa). If you expect to discuss law, then an understanding of the nomenclatura is a prerequisite.

Posted by Philip Prindeville on 11/01/2005 at 6:50 PM

Re: “October 19, 2005

Philip A. Prindeville states that the presumption of innoncence applies to "American persons," i.e. anyone legally in the United States and goes on to say no others are protected. Two problems with that. One, he seems to forget that "all men are created equal". It is easy and dangerous to prejudialy subdivide the human population into lesser groups based on the happenstance of their birthplace. Two, he uses the term "American" to refer to citizens of the USA. Canadians and Mexicans are "American" too. The Americas stretch all the way from nothern Canada to the tip of south America.

Posted by Eric P. Nielsen on 10/22/2005 at 8:25 PM

Re: “August 24, 2005

Bush Brew is freakin' HIlarious.

Posted by chris morris on 08/27/2005 at 4:31 PM


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