Jorge Meraz: Folks, on this episode of "Crossing South," we get to see why Baja California is becoming a key location for establishing international operations, and it's coming to you now.
♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Jorge Meraz: Call centers are very predominant in Tijuana because of the large bilingual population it has, so we checked one out that turned out to be very interesting.
Jorge Meraz: Jorge, so how long have you personally had a call center here in Tijuana?
Jorge Oros: So about 14 years, we started in-- Jorge Meraz: 14 years?
Jorge Oros: Yeah, 2007.
Jorge Meraz: Okay.
Jorge Oros: I think it's about 14 years, It's been a while.
Jorge Meraz: So how has the ride been?
I mean, the call center.
Jorge Oros: Oh, it's been amazing.
You know, when we first started back in 2007, we started with ten people and kind of see how, you know, what we could do.
Jorge Meraz: How many do you have now?
Jorge Oros: About 3,000.
Jorge Meraz: Oh, my goodness.
Jorge Oros: And so we started little by little, and you know what we did is we identified two things.
One that was key is that we find two types of people: People like myself that grew up in Tijuana, people that understands both cultures, but they grew up in the border, you know, like, myself.
Jorge Meraz: I agree -- You and me, both of us.
Jorge Oros: So you speak English well, and, you know, you've been to the U.S., and so you understand it, and you're able to relate with the U.S. consumer.
Jorge Meraz: Tijuana has a large continent at least from--I don't know--from our generation that was bilingual, right?
Jorge Oros: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Jorge Meraz: So you had a lot of those?
Jorge Oros: So we have a lot of those, and then we had the other side, which was greater, people that were deported, people that their Spanish--their English was better than their Spanish so that they find themself at the border, you know, 'cause they got deported for whatever reasons, and then they come to Mexico to a country they really--they hardly ever know.
Jorge Meraz: Amazing.
Jorge Oros: And so what's next for them, right?
And so we realize that they have perfect English.
They grew up in the states.
They went through the U.S. school system.
Jorge Meraz: They have the culture.
Jorge Oros: So they got the culture, and they would relate with the U.S. consumer and understand-- Jorge Meraz: Perfect for you.
Jorge Oros: --everything that goes on, so, for us, it's great.
It's a win-win, right?
We say we're in the business of changing people's lives, and that's how we do it by helping them transition from what they had in the states back to what they can have now in their own country, where they don't have to really be lookin' over their shoulder and bein' afraid of getting deported, and, you know, we emphasize a lot in that and "How do we help you get to the next level?
We don't care what you've done in the past.
We care about how we're gonna get to the future and what we're gonna do, what changes are we gonna make in your life to really, you know, move on," and it's a win-win for everybody.
Everybody rallies around that, right?
Jorge Meraz: Jorge, I wanna take a little tour of your place-- Can I go see it?
Jorge Oros: Absolutely, let's check it out.
Jorge Meraz: Thank you, my friend, thank you.
I'm gonna check it out.
Jorge Oros: You're welcome.
Jorge Meraz: "Crossing South," folks.
We're gonna take a look at their operations and see how it's going, and it seems pretty interesting, but it is a reality of the border region, so we wanna go in depth and look how one of the many call centers in the region are housing these people, giving them a second opportunity, so stay with us.
We're gonna go check it out.
Jorge Meraz: Gentlemen, very nice to meet ya.
Sal Ramirez: Pleasure's ours.
Jose Cepeda: Likewise.
Jorge Meraz: How many of you guys are deported?
Agustin Pedraza: All three of us.
Sal: All three of us here.
Jorge Meraz: All three of you guys are deported?
Sal: That is correct.
Jorge Meraz: "Relocated," hah-hah.
Agustin: That's the sales pitch.
Jorge Meraz: So could you guys tell me a little bit of what you did in the states, first of all, before you guys were deported?
Sal: I actually grew up in Solana Beach in the Del Mar area.
I went to Torrey Pines High School.
Jorge Meraz: San Diego.
Jorge Meraz: The Falcons, right?
Jorge Meraz: Hah-hah-hah.
Sal: Torrey Pines Falcons.
I would've been the class of '91, but, anyways, I won't go into detail there, but I did a lot of work in restaurant, restaurant work.
I'm a people person.
Jorge Meraz: So you were in the food business?
Sal: Yeah, I did that for about 12 years.
Jorge Meraz: Okay.
Jose: So I grew up in San Diego as well, South Bay area.
I went to Montgomery High School.
Jorge Meraz: Montgomery, okay.
Oh, I don't know the mascot of Montgomery.
Jose: The Aztecs.
Jorge Meraz: Hey, I knew that's it.
I said it before he said it.
"Aztecs," I said, ha-ha-ha-ha.
Jose: Yeah, so I graduated with my class of '08, and afterwards, I tried to join the military, but due to some background issues, they needed, like, special duty, so I got my credentials for welding.
I became a resident welder at a private yacht company in Point Loma, and I was working there until I came over here.
Agustin: I grew up in Riverside County, and the last few years I lived there was actually in San Diego, Chula Vista, and I used to sell cars, work in the restaurant industry, as well, and mainly wholesale and, like, you know, warehouse, things like that, you know, just pretty much anything to go ahead, and I was kind of young so just anything to go ahead and keep myself busy, focused.
Jorge Meraz: Were you also a resident before or were you-- Agustin: No, I was completely 100% Mexican.
You know, it was taken there as a child.
I grew up there and, you know, just tried to make ends meet, and then I was--you know, I had a little bit of a traffic violation which led to-- Jorge Meraz: Which is one of many stories like that, right?
A minor thing.
You know, sometimes, it's a actual crime--right?--but many times, just a minor infraction or whatever, and that did it, right?
Did you know Spanish when you guys got deported?
Sal: I did.
Agustin: I did.
Agustin: I have more of a Cuban accent, but yeah.
Jorge Meraz: Right, hah-hah-- But, you know, I've met people that knew no Spanish.
When someone doesn't even know the culture--right?--and they're just, like, thrown in another country, then, you know, all of a sudden, it's heartbreaking, right?
Jorge Oros: And English speaking agents will probably have a good 15,000 call-center jobs that are targeted at the U.S. market.
Jorge Meraz: Okay.
Jorge Oros: All right?
Jorge Meraz: And no matter what call, not just yours -- Jorge Oros: No, not us, right.
So, if you say, okay, so, 15,000, and then you say about 70% of 'em are people that have been deported-- Jorge Meraz: Only 30 are local, bilinguals?
Jorge Oros: Right.
Jorge Meraz: Seventy percent are-- Jorge Oros: That's huge, right?
Jorge Meraz: Oh, my goodness.
Jorge Oros: So, you know, the INAMI gave us some crazy numbers.
Jorge Meraz: The government agency did this like a census, or what?
Jorge Oros: Right, and so they tell us they're deporting about 5,000 people a month-- Jorge Meraz: Woo--throughout the borders, right?
Jorge Meraz: Jorge had a good point.
These guys are thrown into the unknown and have to start from scratch.
This must be very difficult, but for many of them, these call centers are playing an important role into their transition to a new life, to a new country, to a new culture.
Jorge Meraz: How was it when you guys were first, you know, thrown into Mexico?
Sal: Man, you have to start from zero.
Jorge Meraz: Any friends, any family?
Sal: Yeah, my aunt and cousins lived here.
And my mom, she had some property, so I was able to have a house, where to live, but starting all over, and pretty much the most difficult part was being away from my kids.
Jorge Meraz: Jose, what was a little bit of your experience when you first, like, "boom," are in Mexico?
Jose: It was very difficult.
Just the culture shock is--it's great; it's overwhelming.
I was used to everybody around me always having, like, basically, the best intentions for me.
And to come over here--and it's more of a fight-for-survival type of things.
Jorge Meraz: And Agustin, what was your experience?
Agustin: Well, very similar to my coworkers and friends here.
I mean, the culture shock, when you first get deported, it literally does, I mean, change everything.
I, like many others, came with little money.
I got my last $15, just enough to go to Grandma's house.
It was a surprise for her as well as part of the family 'cause they didn't know when I was gonna get deported, if I was gonna get deported.
I gotta say, I was blessed to go ahead and have a place to, at least, crash, you know, sleeping on the floor-- Jorge Meraz: For sure.
Agustin: --you know, 'cause they didn't have--nobody planned it, so they didn't have a bed for me or anything so--but we've had, I guess, the good fortune of meeting many people.
I've been with the company for 13 years, and I've had people that I've met that are good friends now that, you know, have got here, and they literally had nowhere to sleep, you know?
And because they heard somebody speak English that offered them a job--they found out about us--it's life-changing.
It's like one of 'em said, I mean, it's, you know, you have to either, you know, fight or flight, you know, and you kind of just go ahead and just, you know, pick yourself up and just try again tomorrow.
Jorge Oros: Before this, there was this big boom of call centers in the region, you would see people in the border, you know, asking for money or just not knowing where they're gonna go because they didn't really have a home, right?
They would go to work in restaurants and work on the streets and work whatever, but now there's an opportunity that we can help them transition, and then we've done a great job working together with the government, with the local companies, with the universities to help them get all the paperwork they need to take it to the next level, right?
Some of 'em go back to school, some of 'em, you know, they just have families now, and they're able to buy their own home, and like I said, they don't have to be lookin' over their shoulder, and that's huge.
That's how we change lives one at a time, right?
Jorge Meraz: Amazing.
It could be a model to be followed in other places in the world, right?
Jorge Oros: Absolutely, you know, that's the thing that everybody rallies around when there's a good purpose, and I think we found our purpose, and I think that the more we can say that, the more we can help.
You know, even work the U.S. government, right?
So we work with some of the, you know, the consulate and stuff to help to, kind of, raise our hands like, "Hey, if you're gonna do this, we can help "soft land" the people that you're deporting."
Jorge Meraz: Right.
Jorge Meraz: I was starting to understand his point of view more and more.
It's a business, first and foremost--right?--but a business that can make a major contribution to society.
I wanted to know how these guys felt about that.
Jorge Meraz: The fact that the call-center industry is in Tijuana and it's so welcoming of people with English skills, like either Mexican bilinguals who are local or deportees--and what has that meant for you and maybe people that you know?
Jose: Yeah, well, for one, it made me feel not as far away from home, just meeting people that come from, you know, the same background as me, come from the same areas that we grew up in, just have common things to actually talk about.
Jorge Meraz: You have that kinship with other people that went through your experience.
Jose: So that is awesome, and then, basically, like he said, the second opportunity to be a productive member of society.
You know, now I've been here 11 years.
You know, I've made a family.
We bought our house, so everything's pretty good.
Like, everything that I missed doing over there, I'm doing it over here, and that is definitely thanks to the call center so-- Agustin: The first thing that comes to mind is empathy.
It was that opportunity to pick myself back up again once you hit, you know, the bottom, and that's really the only thing you have left to do.
So, I, myself, you know, like some of my coworkers, you know, I found my wife here.
Jorge Meraz: Congratulations.
Agustin: I have my firstborn and a second one on the way.
I finished my career.
I made a career out of this as well as, you know, I went to the university, and I finished so-- Jorge Meraz: You went to college here in Tijuana?
Agustin: Yeah, university.
Jorge Meraz: You're kidding.
Agustin: Yeah, so, organizational psychologist, and, you know, I'm also certified as a trainer, a lot of things that this company allowed me to go ahead and try, you know, grow and eventually share with others as well.
Jorge Meraz: Sal, please tell me your story is also as happy as these guys.
Agustin: Come on, Sal.
Sal: You know what?
I found this company has invested a lot in me.
For myself and maybe about 400 of our employees, we've been here more than five years.
I've been in the company now 12 years.
It's been a life-changing opportunity.
I used to ride the public transportation to work when they started here 12 years ago.
Things have come a long way.
I got a 2020 vehicle.
I just got my second home credit.
He was talking about his wife.
I met my wife through the socialized medicine that we have here.
I also just graduated in June of last year.
Jorge Meraz: You went to college too?
Sal: I got my degree in Business Administration, got a DBA, and I'm going for my master's in January.
I started as an agent, team lead, supervisor, manager.
Now I'm a business development executive.
Jorge Meraz: Now you're bringing business to the company, huh?
You're bringin' the dough, Sal.
Jorge Oros: You can see there's a cultural difference.
Jorge Meraz: For sure.
Jorge Oros: But then you start to realize, man, these are people that wanna work hard.
These are people that are dedicated, and they wanna, you know, move on with their lives and just look at the future, right?
And so I'm always proud to say that, you know, we employ so many of people that live through that process, and we see the so many success stories that I look back, and it's like, "That's the people that have our backs," you know?
Most of the time, they know that they give 100% at work, and I'm very proud of the teams that we're being able to generate because they know that we care for them, and we know that they care for their job and that they're gonna do whatever it takes.
Jorge Meraz: So, for these men, everything turned out almost perfect, right?
But that's probably not the case for everyone who gets deported.
So maybe they have some advice for others who faced the same fate as they did years ago.
Jorge Meraz: I see sometimes also people who have been deported and seem to can't accept the reality, their new reality, right?
Sometimes, maybe, they overexaggerate or estimate how life really was, thinking that it was perfect and not remembering that, no matter where you are, there was adversity, there was problems, you know, all these different things, and their reminiscing of that old life doesn't let them progress here.
What advice would you give someone struggling with that reality?
They're here now because, life, that's how it is.
Sometimes, you can't change it.
Jose: To be honest, it's basically like, "Get the ball rolling, man, 'cause the world is not gonna stop for you.
You gotta keep moving.
You gotta keep progressing or else you're gonna be lost forever."
Agustin: Don't look back, you know?
Keep lookin' forward.
Hold onto your values.
Hold onto your faith.
Hold onto love and hope because, at the end of the day, like you mentioned, I mean, no matter where you're at, there's always adversity, but look at this as a vacation to a brand-new, you know, paradise where it's really up to you to go ahead and take advantage of it.
We all have to eat.
We all have to, you know, dress ourselves and fight for another day regardless of where you're at, but for somebody to go ahead and focus on what they've lost, look at it this way: Now you can go ahead and take your family to Cancun.
Jorge Meraz: Heh-heh-heh.
Agustin: Now you can go ahead and have tacos at any time you want.
Now you can go ahead and finish the university, somebody that has their own home, somebody that--and it's actually a lot easier for us to go ahead, and I never knew how easy it was to buy a house until I did it over here in Mexico.
So it's look at the opportunities.
Don't let the tears stop you.
There's always a brighter day.
Jorge Meraz: Well, thank you, guys.
I appreciate your time.
I'll just tell you what an immigration lawyer said to someone who had--who finally exhausted all their recourses and was gonna self-deport.
He's tellin' him, "Even if you walk away, nobody can take away the experience of ten years of being an American here in the states.
You're taking that wherever you go.
Jorge Meraz: Folks, I hope you enjoyed it.
It was a good, feel-good, human story.
It's a reality in the region.
Probably all border towns in Mexico are going through similar stories, but it's good to see people whose reality was changed dramatically, have a second chance at a real dignified life.
We hope you enjoyed the segment, folks.
Jorge Meraz: This call center, as well as many other nearshore businesses and manufacturing efforts are a very big part of this border region.
We found one of the masterminds behind it all, and his name is Enrique Esparza.
He's been in the manufacturing industry for over 25 years with expertise in establishing and administrating new companies in Mexico.
As a graduate from the University of San Diego, he's helped establish over 220 companies in the Baja California region.
He often represents Mexico's industry in conferences and panel discussions to share his expertise on managing foreign operations in Mexico.
Jorge: So, Enrique, everyone knows that Tijuana is a major hub for industry, maquiladora, production.
Tell me what's goin' on in the city.
I mean, people wanna know how big is that in Baja or Tijuana?
Enrique Esparza, Jr.: Absolutely, well, just to give you a little bit of background, the maquiladora industry or IMMEX industry, as it's known now, has been around since probably mid-'60s here in Tijuana.
It started off with electronics; was probably one of the pioneers that brought a lot of manufacturing to the region, but, however, today, we have an ecosystem that includes medical, aerospace, electronics.
I mean, you name it, we have it and even into areas that are not traditional manufacturing, call centers, for example.
Biotech is here.
Jorge: -- also Hubble has a place here, right?
Enrique: Exactly, so we've got a lot of innovation.
We've got a lot of unique players, worldwide companies.
Tijuana, for example, is number one in medical device exports worldwide-- Jorge: Oh, really.
Enrique: --right, to the U.S., so we are the largest.
The Baja region has approximately 400,000 direct-labor manufacturing employees today, 400,000 families, and if you consider the economic impact outside of that, we're at a three to one, so roughly 1.2 million families depend-- Jorge: Are being benefitted.
Enrique: Yeah, exactly.
Jorge: Enrique wanted to share with me an interesting fact on one of the reasons why the maquiladora industry is so important in Mexico.
Enrique: Mexico graduates more engineers than the U.S. does.
Jorge: Oh, really?
Enrique: Something people didn't know, and Tijuana, in and of itself, has a tremendous academic program, university programs.
There's a lot of partnership between the education system and the manufacturing.
Jorge: Are you saying that the industry kind of communicates with, like, the universities, "This is what we need"?
Jorge: And they prepare?
Enrique: Absolutely, so there are engineering programs that were specifically designed for a production process.
Jorge: So no useless degrees as to "How to Interpret Teletubbies" and that kind of thing?
Enrique: No, no.
Jorge: Actually STEM fields?
Enrique: You know that one of the challenges--I will tell you that one of the challenges we do find is finding the talent because there's such a high demand for it.
Jorge: You're kidding.
Enrique: Yeah, and that's one of the things that we're very proud to export-- We do export talent.
Jorge: There is so much talent in Baja California.
All the STEM field graduates are an asset to the region, something they can really be proud of.
But this is to another remarkable evolution taking place here.
Enrique: The pandemic has been unique in that some of that--a lot of manufacturing that used to be done in Asia is now coming back, and it's nearshoring.
Jorge: So nearshoring is a real thing, it's happening?
Enrique: It's a real thing.
We've seen it now for the last, probably, year and a half.
What we find, more often than not, is that cost is not the driver for why companies wanna set up shop-- Jorge: That's not why a company would leave China and go to Tijuana?
Enrique: No, not necessarily.
Jorge: What would it be then?
Enrique: Well, supply chain.
For example, time-to-market is another one.
Jorge: Okay, gotcha.
Enrique: So there's a lot of proximity to the U.S., right?
And then you've gotta consider that Latin America, Mexico, is its own market, and so they wanna be close to home.
They wanna be able to deliver just in time.
They don't wanna have to carry those inventories.
They don't wanna have to contend with-- Jorge: So are you saying that a company based in Tijuana could basically supply U.S. and Latin America markets with their product?
Enrique: Correct, that's correct.
Jorge: Wow, yeah, that makes sense.
Enrique: That's correct.
Jorge: But now I want to know if it's easy to set up a manufacturing business in Mexico.
I think Enrique's the right man to answer that question.
Enrique: So there's a couple of different ways that a manufacturing company can set up shop in Mexico.
One is they can go out and do it on their own, and they can hire the attorney and the accountant, and they can go through that process on their own.
Probably gonna take 'em about two years.
Another is to do it through a company like ours, where we already have all of the infrastructure in place.
We have the Mexican entity in place.
We have all the permits in place, and we provide all of the administrative infrastructure, accounting, you know, transportation, logistics.
So their focus is equipment, raw material, and production, and we do everything else, and we've been fortunate enough now to be in business for 42 years.
Jorge: How many factories do you have right now?
Enrique: We have 28 factories throughout Mexico, so we're not only in Tijuana.
Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate, we have Merida.
We have Monterrey.
And we're right around 3,500 employees.
Jorge: So it's a common practice which facilitates operations for a foreign investment, right?
Enrique: Yes, yes.
Jorge: I don't wanna wait the two years.
I wanna get my plant set up immediately, plug and play.
How long does it take with a company like yours?
How long does it take 'em to start building?
Enrique: We can typically get a project goin' in anywhere from four to six months.
Jorge: That's breaking ground?
Enrique: It depends on the complexity of the project.
If we're talkin' a greenfield project where we're gonna build a site, we're gonna develop it from scratch, you're probably looking at about a year.
Jorge: A year.
Enrique: Construction time alone is about nine months.
Jorge: And that means you're building, though, the plant.
Enrique: We're building the plant.
We're doing--right, we're doing all the infrastructure.
If we already have a site available for the project and it's, let's say, an assembly-type project, we can usually get those up and running in about six months.
Jorge: Okay, so imagine I wanna, you know, I wanna set up a factory that builds stormtrooper helmets from "Star Wars," you know, in mass scale.
What do I need to do?
Enrique: Well, first, we have to make sure that we have the supply chain and the infrastructure around that.
So, can we do it?
Yes, we've been asked to do some really wild things, and I won't get into that, but we have to figure out what your raw material is.
We have to figure out, you know, what equipment you already have in place.
Is this a start-up company, or are you already manufacturing this somewhere else, and you're bringing it over?
We have a division that focuses exclusively, for example, contract manufacturing projects, companies that don't wanna come to Mexico, but they want their product manufactured here, and they don't have the resources or the know-how to know who.
They'll come to us, and we do that for them.
Enrique: And we turn around the project.
Jorge: To end things off, I wanted to know if Enrique had some crazy anecdotes from the work that he does with his company.
Enrique: So there's a funny story.
We were in Downtown San Diego, and they needed to get their facility up and running as soon as possible, and this was a greenfield project.
We didn't have a site.
We didn't have a building--we had a site.
We didn't have a building built, and it's a big project.
This is a 300,000-square-foot facility that we were looking at, and things got lively, livelier as the night went on-- Jorge: Some spirits were shared.
Enrique: Some spirits were shared.
I got on the phone with one of my partners here in Tijuana.
I said, "Hey," I said, "we need to break ground in the next two weeks."
Jorge: Over beers.
Enrique: It's a 300,000-square-foot--no, I've got the client in front of me and him on the phone, and I said, "Are we ready?
It's a ten-year project."
Jorge: You signed the contract right there?
Enrique: We cheered the contract on the spot, and we got the project-- Jorge: Gentleman's Agreement.
Enrique: Gentlemen's Agreement.
Jorge: Did he come through?
Enrique: This is it right here.
Jorge: Oh, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.
Enrique: We're here.
Jorge: Oh, that is so cool.
You're like Robert De Niro, I heard Robert De Niro closed a movie like that.
"I'll play the dad, and you'll play the dude-- If you shake my hand, that's what's gonna happen."
And they did that, and that's how it happened.
Enrique: There you go.
There you go.
Jorge: You're like Robert De Niro, right?
Jorge: So after learning about the ins and outs of nearshore manufacturing and getting to experience amazing human stories on our tour of this call center in Tijuana, we look forward to more mind-expanding adventures the next time we cross south.
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