June 13, 2008

Green Industry Maquiladora Unveiled

In this US election year, politicians of all persuasions talk about “green” jobs as the wave of the future. But while the US whittles away time in making the inevitable transition to a fossil fuel-free economy, German investors on the Mexico-US border now have a jump-start on their Yankee competitors. Ironically, to gain an edge in the emerging green economy, they are taking advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement originally promoted by the US government.

At a ceremony in the Mexican White House late last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon praised the news that a German firm, Q-Cells, will open a large solar cell factory in the Baja California border city of Mexicali.

The maquiladora, which President Calderon said could create 4,500 direct jobs and 13,000 indirect ones, will manufacture cells used in the generation of solar energy. In addition to production workers, the manufacturing facility will employ engineers and technical specialists.

Significantly, Q-Cells’ plant will be the first tenant of the new Silicon Border Science Park in Mexicali, a 10,000-acre industrial park founded by veterans of the US high-tech industry and built with the support of the Baja California and California state governments.

“We have been working diligently to bring advanced manufacturing to this region,” said Silicon Border CEO Daniel J. Hill, “and with this decision from Q-Cells, this initiative is now becoming a reality.”

According to a press statement from Silicon Border, Q-Cells, known as the world’s largest solar cell manufacturer, will have a strategic launching pad in Mexicali because of the border city’s close transportation links to US markets, the existence of Mexico’s 43 free trade agreements with other countries and tax and financial incentives offered by Mexican state and federal governments. Anton Milner, Q-Cells chief executive officer, called the Silicon Border location “ideal” for his company.

Baja California Secretary of Economic Development Jose Gabriel Posada Gallego said that Q-Cells decided on locating a large production unit in Mexico after “analyzing competitive options in other countries.”

Construction of the factory is expected to begin later this year, with the target opening date set for late 2009. Q-Cells long-term investment in the project could reach an unprecedented $3.5 billion, depending on how sales go with US and Latin American customers. The construction end of the project will need 1,200 workers or more and utilize 100,000 cubic meters of concrete, according to Fernando Maiz, head of the construction firm developing Silicon Border.

For President Calderon, the landing of Q-Cells represented not only another foreign investment coup, but an important milestone in Mexico’s entry into the global green economy as well. At this stage of the game, though, it’s unclear how many of Q-Cells’ Mexicali-produced solar cells will actually wind up being used in Mexico as opposed to simply being exported to other nations. Information about wages that will be paid the Mexicali workers or how much the solar cells will sell for abroad was not immediately available either.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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