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Mexicali mayor extends warm welcome as NAFTASHO crosses border

February 09, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

MEXICALI — In its fourth year of existence, NAFTASHO has crossed the border, leaving behind its humble beginnings in the Imperial Valley for a place among this city's teeming maquiladora industry.

Thursday through today more than 200 businesses and organizations representing a wide range of services, along with thousands of residents from the Imperial, Mexicali and Coachella valleys and points beyond, converged on the EX-XXI Industrial Park on Calzada Manuel Gomez Morin to celebrate cross-border business, to network and to promote, promote, promote.

A featured speaker helping to kick off the fourth annual Manufacturing Industry Suppliers & Service Providers Trade Show, Mexicali Mayor Victor Hermosillo welcomed NAFTASHO to his city, even walking from booth to booth shaking hands with the various vendors during the course of the day.

"For Mexicali this is important," Hermosillo said. "What we want to have is an international promotion of this area."

Hermosillo made it a point to refer to not only Mexicali as "this area" but its neighbors to the north, the Imperial and Coachella valleys.

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"I just want to thank all those people that see there's a market in this area," Hermosillo said. "This is a strategic area. There's plenty of land, water's a key factor, we've got good weather and it's a stable city with lots of workers."

The decision to bring NAFTASHO south of the border likely had much to do with both adding to the international flavor of the event and attracting more maquiladora traffic.

Claudio Moreno, a division manager with the Santa Ana-based Western Switches & Controls Inc., said both reasons seem to be good reasons.

"Already, from what I've seen, it's gotten a lot better. This is what we want — to get more maquila people here," Moreno said, adding his list of contacts this year has exceeded his company's previous three years at the show.

With more than 180 maquiladoras in nearly 20 industrial parks throughout the Mexicali area, NAFTASHO and its participants cater to that industry, whether it be companies that can build warehouses to agencies that can find the labor needed.

One such company was Maquila Portal of Chihuahua, Mexico. A member of the company's marketing department, Sergio Ornelas, explained the Internet-based company provides comprehensive information to those looking to open maquiladoras.

Information available runs the gamut, from economic and legal facts to info on Mexican tax laws and human resources agencies, Ornelas said.

Housed at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, the California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies provides much of the same information, but CCBRES is non-profit.

CCBRES Director Kimberly Collins said providing such information to organizations or companies "creates a win-win situation for the Imperial Valley, Mexicali and all the businesses that come here."

Booths from Imperial Valley-based entities were in abundance. Cities and chambers of commerce shared the trade show floor with hotels, media outlets and others kinds of companies.

Suzanna Heasley, hotel and dining room manager of the Barbara Worth Golf Resort in Holtville, said, "We're here because a lot of these people stay in our hotel, eat in the restaurant and play golf. We're here to promote our business."

Duggins Construction Co. employees such as Debbie Sigala manned a booth looking to promote the company's ability to do building associated with the maquiladora industry.

"I think this has a lot of value for businesses," Sigala said. "They can make lots of contacts."

That's why Robert Perez, general manager of Imperial-based L.A. Chemical, attended Thursday.

In the business of providing industrial chemicals to manufacturing and processing facilities as well as water and wastewater treatment plants, Perez said he could always stand to make more contacts.

"NAFTASHO is very important," he said. "It gives me exposure and I also find out what services are available out there that might help me."

Municipalities and their economic development agencies were out in force Thursday trying to entice prospective companies looking to set up shop north of the border.

While Palm Springs, Indio and Yuma all had a presence, local cities like El Centro, Calexico, Brawley, and even small cities such as Calipatria made an impact.

It was all-out team effort by the folks of Calipatria to bring people to their booth. Alongside City Manager Romualdo Medina, unofficial Calipatria public relations officers Terri Woodruff and Luis Zendejas of Zendejas Hardware talked up their North County home.

Woodruff mentioned the area's cattle industry, the nearby Salton Sea and the coming beef-processing plant as signs of progress as Zendejas touted the Valley's inexpensive water and electricity and, more specifically, Calipatria's dirt-cheap real estate.

Zendejas said 1 acre of prime land in Calexico could cost as much as $1 million while that same sized plot of land in Calipatria would cost around $1,000.

Of NAFTASHO, Calexico Economic and Community Development Director Juan Verdugo said, "This is a good forum to showcase to industries what the Valley has at this point. … It's a global message we're trying to get out."

Sponsored by First National Bank, the county of Imperial, the Imperial Irrigation District, International Real Estate, RPM Material Handling, Ace Printing, Imperial Valley College, Valley Independent Bank, Western Auto and the Valley of Imperial Development Alliance, among others, NAFTASHO was expected to wrap by 2 today.

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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