REYNOSA, Mexico – Although street shootouts make the headlines in this northern border city, Reynosa is a powerful engine of economic growth thanks to its assembly plants and a place that showcases the still-robust trade relationship between Mexico and the United States.
“Reynosa is a city of contrasts. It has problems with violence and crime, but everyone wants to come to Reynosa because of its geographical location,” Mayor Maki Ortiz told EFE, referring to manufacturing companies that have set up shop in this city, located in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
According to the mayor, the city accounts for around 60 percent of manufacturing output in that state, which in turn represents 3.1 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Around 125,000 of Reynosa residents – 60 percent of the workforce – are employed in assembly plants. These factories assemble products such as electrical appliances and auto parts that are mainly exported to the US.
The unstoppable growth of manufacturing in Reynosa has led to a shortage of around 10,000 workers.
“There isn’t enough personnel and we have to look for workers in other states,” Martha Ramos, director of Index, a trade association representing assembly plants in Reynosa, told EFE.
This encouraging data is at odds with the fact that Reynosa is one of Mexico’s most violent municipalities, beset by turf battles among drug gangs or clashes pitting organized crime groups against federal forces.
One of the biggest problems in the city are “narco-blockades,” in which criminal organizations create chaos by blocking roads with burning vehicles. That lawlessness puts a dent in manufacturing production and severely affects employees’ quality of life.
When shootouts or narco-blockades take place “you don’t know if you’ll be safe at work or if you’ll get home,” Jonathan Ferretis, a young forklift operator, told EFE.
These problems have been compounded by the trying task of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Canada. Even so, workers and companies continue to push ahead with the same spirit and resolve.
“Life has changed, but at the end of the day we keep working because we have to keep producing and live our lives,” Thelma Moyeda, head of human resources and operations at Cequent, an auto parts manufacturer, told EFE.