El Paso Economic Development Corporation: Best of both worlds – Bob Cook

Bob Cook of the El Paso Economic Development Corporation discusses the US city's impressive growth and the benefits of being so close to Mexico.

What is the current industry picture in El Paso?

Bob Cook: We are a bi-national organisation, so we promote not only El Paso but the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, as well - a binational 'borderplex' of 2.7 million. We are targeting five industries for jobs and investment, and a major one is the defence sector. We have the largest US Department of Defense installation in the world (Fort Bliss and the White Sands Missile Range). It is over 7,100m2 in area and the US Army has chosen to carry out its technology evaluation and integration there, which will then be used to modernise all army brigades across the world.

With this concentration of futuristic military activities in our regional military complex, there are a lot of opportunities for high-tech companies. The largest industry cluster in the region is automotive and aerospace. The sector employs over 100,000 people, and has great capabilities for a range of automotive and aerospace manufacturing.

We have two major universities on the US side of the international border - the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University. More than 1,300 scientists and engineers graduate every year from these two institutions, and growth outperforms the national average.

Texas is known as a business-friendly state. How are things from a tax and regulation standpoint?

Being part of the State of Texas is a great advantage. Texas has consistently been a leader among the 50 states over the past decade in terms of job growth and attraction of capital investment. We have one of the most business-friendly legal systems in the US, competitive compensation practices and, being a 'Right to Work' state, Texas is a very non-union environment.

The state and local government combine to provide very robust financial incentives for companies looking to move to the region. Our geographic location, on the border with Mexico, brings a number of built-in advantages. The Mexican Maquiladora programme
allows global corporations to set up and own their manufacturing operations. Companies can import materials and machinery duty-free, take advantage of globally competitive labour costs, and re-export their products to the US and the world. Our region combines the best of what the US and Mexico has to offer.

Ciudad Juarez has seen particularly strong growth in recent times.

Ciudad Juarez, which is just across the border, has led Mexico in many industrial measures for the past few years. The attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI) per capita is higher there than any other city. Since June 2009, over 70,000 new industrial jobs have been created.

The manufacturing sector is supported by very robust infrastructure. The transport and utilities networks are excellent and we have three ports of entry into the US, which last year supported a record $80.1 billion of bilateral trade.

Ciudad Juarez does, however, have a reputation for being unsafe. How much truth is there in this and what effect does it have on El Paso?

El Paso is the safest large city in the US. For three years running now we have had the lowest crime rate of any American city with a population of more than 500,000.

In Ciudad Juarez, a vast majority of the violence occurs within the organised crime network, those who support it and those who work against it. We have about 3,500 professionals that live in El Paso and cross the bridge into Mexico every day. We have not had a single report of violence against one of these individuals.

The environment is different from what most of the world believes. Reported crime has decreased 70% the past two years in Juarez, and as I have already mentioned, the city is realising significant growth in jobs and investment.

Where do you envisage the strongest growth over the medium term?

We have a very robust medical devices manufacturing sector and the high-tech consumer electronics segment is growing rapidly. We saw more than $16.0 billion-worth of trade in electronics alone in 2011.

Leading the electronics sector are Taiwanese companies, which supply an estimated 20,000 jobs in the region. More jobs from Taiwanese companies have been created here than any place in North America.

A total of 21 countries (other than Mexico and the US) are represented by companies in the borderplex and we do all we can to help new arrivals assimilate. It's something we take very seriously. We have close to 60,000 jobs in the region with companies that are headquartered in a place other than the US or Mexico - so many European and Asian languages are spoken here.

Bob Cook of the El Paso Economic Development Corporation.