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“Quicksourcing” Labor With Jurisdictional Arbitrage

January 27, 2013

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now drone making entrepreneur, has a great article in the NYTimes on how portions of Tijuana and surrounding areas in Mexico are becoming attractive places for American companies to source labor: 

Like many Americans, until recently, when I heard “Tijuana” I thought only of drug cartels and cheap tequila. “TJ,” though, is a city of more than two million people (larger than neighboring San Diego), and it has become North America’s electronics assembly hot spot: most of the flat-screen TVs sold in the United States, from companies like Samsung and Sony, are made there, along with everything from medical devices to aerospace parts. Jordi Muñoz, the smart young guy who had taught me about drones and then started 3D Robotics with me, is from TJ — and he persuaded me to build a second factory there to supplement the work we were doing in San Diego.

Shuttling between the two factories — in San Diego, where we engineer our drones, and in TJ, where we assemble them — I’m reminded of a similar experience I had a decade earlier. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I lived in Hong Kong (working for The Economist) and saw how that city was paired with the “special economic zone” of Shenzhen across the border on the Chinese mainland in Guangdong Province. Together, the two created a world-beating manufacturing hub: business, design and finance in Hong Kong, manufacturing in Shenzhen. The clear division of labor between the two became a model for modern China.

Today, what Shenzhen is to Hong Kong, Tijuana is becoming to San Diego. You can drive from our San Diego engineering center to our Tijuana factory in 20 minutes, no passport required. (A passport is needed to come back, but there are fast-track lanes for business people.) Some of our employees commute across the border each day; good doctors are cheaper and easier to find in TJ, as are private schools, although it’s generally nicer to live in San Diego. In some ways, the border feels more like the notional borders of the European Union than a divide between the developed and developing worlds.

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