By Raoul Lowery Contreras
Many San Diegans are familiar with CETYS University and its associated high schools in Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada because their sons and daughters have competed against the Mexican schools’ football and basketball teams for years.
San Diego collegiate sports fans know that recently the door was opened for CETYS’ collegiate football and basketball teams to join NCAA Division III intercollegiate sports competition. It is the only Mexican university to be invited to join the NCAA.
Considering CETYS is the only Mexican university accredited by U.S. academic accreditation authorities, we are talking about a big deal here. CETYS was part and parcel of my recent visit to the new Baja California.
The first thing I noticed was the number of women in management roles in Baja California businesses. When I operated tours to Tijuana in the 1970s, one of my employees was a young student from the Autonomous University of Baja California. She graduated into a bank teller job; seven years later she became the first woman bank manager in Tijuana. That pleased me.
When I reported to work at what was then Northern Mexico’s largest business, the decades-old and world-famous Caliente Race Track with 1,500 employees, very few business or professional women existed in Baja.
The first person I met with in Tijuana on my recent visit was a young woman, Alejandra Chavez, an engineer working in quality control at a 5,000-employee medical device facility run by Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based company.
She is working on a master’s degree from CETYS and its partner, St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Her undergraduate work was at Tijuana’s Jesuit Ibero-American University.
Yes, a private Baja California university partnered with an American public university in graduate education. This is truly a “hands across the border” program. It reflects an equally massive industrial program.
Medtronic designs and manufactures medical devices, from catheters to complicated open-heart surgery devices. It is one of the world’s largest medical equipment companies with more than 53,000 patents and an annual investment of more than $2 billion in research.
Medtronic stands out not only for its 5,000 on-site Tijuana employees but also for its native Mexican management. Additionally, forty percent of its professional engineering staff is female.
The company operates in what is perhaps the largest medical-device cluster in the world. Currently there are 76 manufacturers in Baja California. Forty-nine of these companies are in Tijuana. A staggering number of people — 64,000 — manufacture medical devices in Baja, 50,000 in Tijuana alone.
Miguel Rochin, a Tijuana native, is Medtronic’s vice president for Mexico operations. He manages the Tijuana operation and also a facility in Guaymas, 1,000 kilometers south of Tijuana in Sonora.
After Medtronics, I went to the state capitol, Mexicali, 120 miles east on a road that didn’t even exist when I worked in Mexico.
Here is where the private, nonprofit CETYS university enters the picture. CETYS is an acronym for what loosely translates to “Center of higher technology education.” In Spanish it is “Centro de Ensenanza Tecnica y Superior.”
At CETYS, most students are Mexican, some American. The tuition is less expensive than at U.S. universities. English is de riguer. Employers snap up bilingual CETYS grads; the university can’t graduate enough to fill demand.
CETYS has three campuses: Tijuana with 3,000 students, Mexicali with 5,000 and the newest campus, 60 miles to the south in Ensenada, with 1,000.
The university has myriad links with the private sector. Familiar names inlcude Gulfstream, United Technologies, Medtronic, Kenworth, LG, Toyota and Honeywell. Recently a large local company, LMI Aerospace, was purchased by a Belgian company that wants to enter the North American market.
In today’s Baja California, South Korea’s Samsung and Taiwan’s FoxConn manufacture flat screen televisions with 7,700 employees. America’s Medline company is building a 100,000-square-foot factory that will employ 3,000. Massachusetts-based Skyworks produces 9.5 million products daily in its 360,000-square-foot Mexicali plant that operates 24 hours a day.
In Mexicali, there are companies from 18 different countries functioning. They all need engineers.
Interviews with CETYS University teachers and officials, factory managers, industry executives and entrepreneurs can be summed up in three words: Baja is booming.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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