Welcome to Baja123.com Blog Sign in | Help

Tijuana group aims to change city’s image


Gore, other leaders expected at meeting

Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 9 p.m.

 Greatbatch de Mexico makes pacemakers at their plant in the Otay Mesa area of Tijuana.

Peggy Peattie / Union-Tribune

Greatbatch de Mexico makes pacemakers at their plant in the Otay Mesa area of Tijuana.

Online: For more information about Tijuana Innovadora, go totijuanainnovadora.com/index_eng.php

 Greatbatch de Mexico makes pacemakers at their plant in the Otay Mesa area of Tijuana.

Photo by Peggy Peattie

Guadalupe Gomez works at Tyco Electronics. After recent job losses, factories in Tijuana are rebounding. Peggy Peattie / U-T

 Greatbatch de Mexico makes pacemakers at their plant in the Otay Mesa area of Tijuana.

Photo by Shaffer Grubb - Union-Tribune

Tijuana work force

 — With drug gangs waging war on Tijuana’s streets last fall and many residents out of work, José Galicot began to brainstorm with a small group of friends. How could they show the world the Tijuana he knows, the city where he first prospered financially, the place that made the heart valve that keeps him alive today?

That conversation has now snowballed into Tijuana Innovadora, a $5 million effort led by the private sector to generate investment and change Tijuana’s image at home and abroad. Galicot is chief cheerleader for the wide-ranging conference planned for Oct. 7-21 at the city’s most important cultural center, the Cecut.

The list of guest speakers includes one of the world’s richest businessmen, Mexican multibillionaire Carlos Slim; former Vice President Al Gore; departing CNN talk-show host Larry King; Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales; Twitter co-founder Biz Stone; Toyota executive Tetsuo Agata; space pioneer Burt Rutan; and Qualcomm Chief Executive Paul Jacobs.

Tijuana Innovadora is the latest — and by far the most ambitious — in a series of efforts led by Galicot to defend the city’s name.

“What we’re doing is taking a plate, throwing it on the ground, making noise and saying, ‘I’m here, this is what I am, look at me, United States, Europe,’ ” said Galicot, 72, head of Tijuana’s Image Committee and a telecommunications and real estate investor. “Look at my factories. I am in a strategic location, right next to San Diego.”

Largely focused at first on the city’s manufacturing sector, Tijuana Innovadora now includes presentations on urban development, digital art, philanthropy and health care.

“What we’re trying to do is project a platform for a lot of things to happen in Tijuana — from infrastructure to new businesses to a new way of thinking to new techniques,” said Alejandro Bustamante, a Tijuana native, longtime leader in the city’s maquiladora (manufacturing) industry and champion of Innovadora.

The event’s price tag may be ambitious, but organizers are expecting to recoup their investment by selling conference tickets and vendor booths, seeking sponsors and private donations, and asking the government to underwrite one-fourth of the cost. Most morning sessions will be free, while $100 pays for the right to attend afternoon events on any given day. The dinners are being sold for $2,000 for a package of five.

Among the growing number of people joining forces for the event, many say just planning Tijuana Innovadora has had an uplifting effect — a chance to emerge from three years of incessant news about drug-related violence, kidnappings and an economic downturn that has cost tens of thousands of jobs and shuttered many businesses. At the group’s Wednesday meetings, these supporters include members of nonprofit groups, government officials, representatives of the city’s various chambers and a few backers from the U.S. side of the border.

Alida Guajardo de Cervantes, a cultural promoter in Tijuana, has joined forces with Tijuana Innovadora. She is leading a project to have residents across the city do a special dance at the same time — in schools, senior centers, factories, even in the yard of the state prison.

Scheduled for the conference’s last day, “Pa’ Bailar Tijuana” is a mass event with steps choreographed by the Tijuana-based dance ensemble Lux Boreal and set to music by Julieta Venegas, the Tijuana-born, Grammy-winning performer.

“I think it’s about showing who we really are. People in Tijuana get up and go to work,” said Guajardo, who was born in San Diego, raised in Mexicali and has lived in Tijuana for nearly four decades. “We have crime, but everybody has crime. Tijuana has always been fingered, all my life, as a city that has bad things.”

Tijuana Innovadora will strive to tell the other side of the story.

It is the story of a city that manufactures 98 percent of the headsets used by air traffic controllers worldwide, they said. A city that built the solar panels used at the stadium in South Africa that housed this summer’s World Cup. A city that expects to make 21 million televisions this year, according to DEITAC, a Tijuana group that promotes industry.

Few would deny that the city has struggled economically in recent years. Its maquiladora sector lost about 30,000 jobs between April 2008 and March 2009 — plummeting from more than 165,000 to 135,000. The factories are rebounding; they counted more than 146,000 employees in April.

IMCO, an economic think tank based in Mexico City, reports that Tijuana’s relative competitiveness slipped between 2006 and 2008, dropping from 15th to 31st place in a survey of 86 Mexican cities.

“Like the rest of the world, we’ve been in a recession, and we’ve felt it most strongly in the sectors that link us to the U.S. economy,” said Alejandro Mungarray, Baja California’s secretary of economic development.

The state has definitely turned a corner in recent months, he said, and “we’ve begun our recovery.”

Innovadora’s promoters are hoping to showcase certain industries such as medical device manufacturing, whose 41 companies employ more than 28,000 workers who assemble everything from catheters and orthopedics to pacemakers and heart valves. Another key sector is defense and aerospace manufacturing, with 31 companies and about 6,500 employees.

Promoters of industry said they are striving to grow out of the traditional model of export-oriented assembly plants that use low-cost labor and imported materials. With nearly 600 maquiladoras in Tijuana, “95 percent of the goods come from outside,” said Jaime González Luna, president of DEITAC. “We’re trying to make investment come in, but also evolve to the next step.”

One of those goals is to develop the city as a center for software development. Innovadora’s promoters have gotten some good news on that front: Microsoft has proposed establishing an “innovation center” in Tijuana that would provide millions of dollars’ worth of licenses and consulting services. The project would focus on developing technology for mobile devices.

Galicot, who like many of Tijuana’s well-to-do owns a home in San Diego, has long been a booster of Tijuana. He has spearheaded a program to decorate the city’s underpasses with murals, campaigned to copyright the city’s name and launched Paseo de la Fama, which displays photos of prominent residents in various locations.

When the Republican National Convention came to San Diego in 1996, Galicot led a public relations effort to bring journalists covering that event to Tijuana. The plan backfired when their attention was drawn to the kidnapping of a Japanese maquiladora executive in the city.

Galicot is undeterred by his critics.

“My first reaction (to Innovadora) was to tell him that he was crazy,” said Gastón Luken Aguilar, a businessman with cross-border ties and a close friend of Galicot’s. Luken has since changed his mind and plans to participate.

“It’s a very, very ambitious and very original grass-roots-driven idea,” he said. “I love grass-roots projects because there are very, very few of them in my country.”

Sandra Dibble: (619) 293-1713; sandra.dibble@uniontrib.com

Published Tuesday, August 10, 2010 7:10 AM by Kanoa Biondolillo


Anonymous comments are disabled