Sept. 22, 2004 - Three hundred million dollars a year, $800,000 a day. That's what Mexican nationals are spending in Pima County each year, representatives of the Tucson Mexico Trade Office told about 40 guests attending a Marana Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Lord of Grace Lutheran Church, 7250 N. Cortaro Road, last week.
It's still a relatively small bite, however, of the $1 billion being spent by the 23 million Mexican nationals crossing the border into Arizona each year, but major efforts are being made to dig deeper into that market, said Felipe Garcia, a Tucson Mexico Trade Office economic development specialist.
The biggest challenge to that effort is coming from Phoenix and the surrounding communities that have been luring Mexican nationals away from Tucson and adversely impacting Tucson's economy, said Garcia and Raul Gamez, another of the trade office's economic development specialists.
If in recent months you've noticed increases in special events catering to the Mexican audience, such as the concerts and boxing matches at Casino del Sol featuring Mexican performers, a few more restaurants open later to cater to Mexico's late diners or bigger crowds at the malls, it's no accident.
For the past six years the Tucson Mexico Trade Office, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, has expanded a program called Vamos a Tucson, or "Let's Go to Tucson," increasing activities that are likely to appeal more to Mexican nationals visiting here and informing them at trade shows, fashion shows and other events in Mexico of attractions such as the University of Arizona's Flandrau Planetarium that they might not know about.
The first thing to be done, now that measures have been taken to make it easier for Mexican nationals to come here by extending the border zone and eliminating unnecessary screening, Garcia said, is to increase the marketing of our goods and services in Mexico, then follow up by offering more events aimed at keeping them here longer.
"It's not just a matter of how can we persuade them to stay longer, but how can we get them to come more often," Garcia said. "According to a study we did in 2001, more than 75 percent of those 23 million visitors from Mexico come here to shop. So we have to find ways to bring them in more often and keep them shopping here. We have to give them more options, especially in the entertainment area, for their families and their children."
Through the Vamos a Tucson program, hospitals also are working with the trade office and MTCVB to promote the quality of health care being offered in the area.
"Ask anybody in Mexico what's the best city in Mexico to get medical care and I can assure you that 90 percent plus will tell you it's Houston," Garcia said. "Is it because it's better there than Tucson? No. It's because in Houston in the 1970s all the hospitals got together and decided to market their services in Mexico because patients would come and pay cash and the hospitals didn't have to deal with insurance.
"So we're developing a strategy to tap into that market so people don't have to go to Houston and will come to Tucson."
Another means being explored to create greater focus on Tucson is to establish Tucson as a distribution center and clearing point for the millions of tons of goods coming into the United States from Asia rather than having those goods distributed from Texas or Kansas City, he said.
The trade office also is working with the Tucson Airport Authority to establish Tucson as a hub to serve residents of northwest Mexico, he said.
A family of five going to Las Vegas from Hermosillo, as an example, will pay $300 a person roundtrip, Garcia said. "So we're telling these customers come to Tucson and get a Southwest Airlines flight for $100 a person and save $1,000 on airfare alone for a four-hour drive."
As part of an initiative to build wealth for the Tucson region by having more goods exported into Mexico, the Tucson Mexico Trade Office also is trying to establish an export academy where businesses can learn the dos, don'ts and hows of exporting into Mexico, Garcia said.
There's just "amazing" momentum right now in terms of building on trade between Tucson and Mexico, Garcia said. Vamos a Tucson, as an example, a few years ago was just a concept. Today it's a major project with Casino del Sol, all the shopping centers, Realtors, developers, hotels and banks all taking part.
Still, to progress further even more community involvement is needed, Garcia said. "People have to have a greater understanding of the Mexican market to appeal to that market and work together to capture a greater share of that market," he said.