HERMOSILLO, MEXICO - Sonora and Arizona can compete together economically against the rest of the world — but only if there is an easy method for people to cross the border legally, the governor of the Mexican state said Tuesday.
Eduardo Bours told an international conference on competitiveness here there are opportunities for a binational economy.
“The average age in Sonora is below 25,’’ Bours said.
“We obviously have quite a strong work force that gives us a competitive advantage,” he continued. And he said the education level of Sonora residents is higher than much of the rest of Mexico.
Conversely, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano said her state’s strengths include optics manufacturing, software development and service industries.
But Bours said presenting a single, solid economic front to the rest of the world is going to require that each state — and each country — address its “fears and uncertainties.”
“One of the uncertainties we face is the topic of safety,” Bours told conferees. He said that means both a belief that the border is secure while ensuring there is an ability to travel back and forth.
Bours said encouraging economic development along the border does not necessarily mean having Mexican nationals going to work in the United States. He said both Sonora and Arizona have to make a case to corporations that they can conduct operations on both sides of the border, taking advantage of lower labor costs in Mexico.
“It’s quite logical if you are developing in Phoenix you could come and see how that’s being developed here in Sonora,” he said. “And then in the evening you go back to Phoenix to watch a Diamondbacks game.”
Napolitano said there already are examples of that at work.
She said Motorola does much of its research and development in Arizona, along with handling its business operations. But she said the company has found it makes sense to base manufacturing in Sonora.
Napolitano said she sees a cross-border partnership as one of the best ways for the region to compete with China and Western Europe.
But not all of the comments were related to manufacturing. Bours said the labor pool in his state provides a different kind of opportunity.
“If we look at the size of the population in the U.S. and in the state of Arizona that is reaching retirement age, we can see that, in Sonora, this offers an opportunity to offer them quality services,” he said.
Carlos Slim, who may now be the world’s richest man, noted the sharply increased costs of health care in the United States, much of that borne by the federal government in Medicare costs. Slim, who owns Telefonos de Mexico, said that presents an opportunity for Mexico to become a place where retirees can come to get medical care at a much lower cost.
But that, Slim said, will require getting Medicare to cover medical procedures done in Mexico.
“I’ve read that many retirees are going to Singapore to get their health treatment because they save about 80 percent in health care costs,” Slim said. “This would help the U.S. in its financial situation.”
Napolitano, however, said there are too many political obstacles to that. Similarly, she said the federal government, which finances two-thirds of the cost of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s insurance program for the poor, would never agree to paying for medical care out of the country.
But the governor said there are some things that might be done to promote a “health care region” between the two states.
For example, she said health care workers trained in one country could be allowed to work on both sides of the border. And Napolitano said plans already at work in Arizona to put patient health records into a computer database could help provide continuity of care when Arizonans decide to get treatment in Sonora.