SPI Wraps up Mexican Trade Mission

Moldmakers travel to Mexico to learn the pros and cons of establishing operations in another country from the experts who have been through it.
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The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) (Washington, D.C.) recently led a trade mission to the maquiladora region to help all businesspeople involved in the plastics industry - including moldmakers - to become more globally competitive and aware of the opportunities that exist around the Mexico/U.S. border.

According to SPI Senior Director of Economic and International Trade Affairs Lori Anderson, representatives from 18 companies attended the event, including moldmakers, raw material suppliers, injection molding machine manufacturers and processors.

Jim Meinert, owner of Mequon, WI-based Snider Mold - which builds large compression, injection, RIM and structural foam molds - was one of the mission leaders. "On last year's mission to China, one of our conclusions was that Hong Kong, the U.S., Taiwan and Japan have put a lot of manufacturing plants into China," Meinert recalls. "Well, we have a China that's closer and that is Mexico.

"In Mexico you can have the best of both worlds," he continues. "Some people have plants on the Texas side because they can find more technical people, and the power and land costs are lower. This is where the twin plant idea came about. You straddle the border and do some things on one side and some things on the other side. You get all of the benefits of being in the States, plus you are there for your customers on the Reynosa side."

The mission began on Monday, December 3rd with a breakfast briefing with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). President and CEO Mike Allen talked to the group about general business traditions and what it takes to develop the land economically. The group then traveled to Reynosa, Mexico to tour TRW, Delphi and Corning. During each tour the group received an overview of the company and its goals and a question and answer session.

Another breakfast briefing kicked off the mission's second day - this time a panel discussion on power, deregulation and workforce development/education. The group then traveled to Harlingen, TX, to tour Bales Mold Service - a Downer's Grove, IL-based company that specializes in polishing, chrome, plating, nickel and nickel Teflon, and welding services - which recently opened a satellite facility. Next up was a tour of automotive molder Tadim Mold, also located in Harlingen.

According to Glenn Starkey, president of Progressive Components (Wauconda, IL) - a supplier of mold components, mold bases and hot runner systems - "We set out to learn if focusing on the maquiladora area is a good solution to the challenge of foreign competition. What we found is a market that's not insulated from the woes of the economy of late - however the business that is being done in this area will continue to be done. We saw several examples of work that is 'Asia-resistant.' In other words, it makes sense to be performed closer to the North American consumer. We also saw a huge need for moldmakers to be positioned to service what they sell."

The final day was "probably one of the best days," Anderson notes. A panel of plant managers from the maquiladora area - Black & Decker, Bissell, LG Electronics (formerly Zenith), Whirlpool and the Maquiladora Association - discussed why they decided to establish businesses in Mexico as well as the pros and cons of operating on both the sides of the border.

"Overall, attendees were impressed with the country's growth and the level of education," Anderson says. "They felt that language wasn't the barrier they imagined it to be. They also acknowledged that there are very sophisticated operations south of the border, yet at the same time noted the lack of efficiency.

"There are tremendous opportunities in this area and it depends upon your niche in the marketplace whether that opportunity is now or whether it's going to be in a few years," Anderson concludes.