Mexico design conference raises the possibility of outsourcing much closer to home
PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico, June 1, 2007 - Mexico may not be the first country that jumps to mind when one thinks of outsourcing industrial design and styling. But if the government and schools of Mexico have their wish, their design students (hundreds of them flocked to the first ever DIMe v1.0, Diseno Industrial Mexico conference), should soon be able to take on outsourcing powerhouses of India and China.
Mexico had received considerable US investment after NAFTA. Most Americans are aware of US companies with factories clustered just over the border that churn out cheap goods. It's meant a lot of manufacturing jobs for Mexicans. Now, it seems that Mexico is setting its sights on exporting its intellectual assets, too.
To tell the story, Robert McNeel & Associates, a major sponsor of the event, invited four of us from the CAD press: Ralph Grabowski (see his blog postings about the event), Randall Newton, Al Dean and me.
The state of Jalisco, in which Puerto Vallarta is located, claims a large share of Mexico's foreign investment. It is proudest of Intel's Design Center in Guadalajara. Guadalajara is Jalisco's biggest city, and second biggest in Mexico (only Mexico City is bigger).
So why would a US company consider Mexico for outsourcing? Well, Puerto Vallarta is a world class resort. My hotel had a swim-up bar.... But forget that for a moment. Mexico neighbors the US, for God's sake! Your overseas office, design center, sweat shop -- call it what you will -- is just a short flight away. Puerta Vallarta was a 3.5 hour direct flight from San Francisco. A multi-stop flight to India will take two days on each end (actual flight time can be over 20 hours). A quick check shows Guadalajara to have one of Mexico's largest universities -- hence it's probably a good source of designers, engineers and other technical professionals.
Lost in Translation
The chief impediment to Mexico entering the international information/IT/outsourcing market is language. I am lucky to have some of the conference proceedings being translated but my lack of Spanish puts me at considerable disadvantage here and almost everywhere else. Even in Puerto Vallarta, a favorite vacation and retirement destination of many Americans, English is rare. Though spoken by many of the hotel's front line staff, it was only Spanish with taxi-drivers, waiters, shop keepers, etc.
Where's the Wi-Fi?
Though I stayed at a 5-star hotel, our rooms had no broadband Internet connection, a service that can now be considered standard in business hotels. Even after a company was contracted to set up wireless connection for us, my colleagues found themselves scrambling to connect. I suspect that if a 5-star hotel has this much trouble connecting its guests, coverage across the country may be spotty at best.
Also somewhat of a problem is "Mexico time," often offered as an explanation for being late. The conference itself was scheduled for 9am but started at 10:30. Or maybe the problem was the final schedule wasn't available till the morning of the conference. None in the milling crowd of attendees seemed to be surprised or bothered by this, but a lack of punctuality and planning would be maddening for American managers.
Still, many US companies could benefit from tapping into a labor force that is cheap, close and sounds eager to get started. By contrast, parts of the world currently associated with outsourcing are already feeling negative effects as superheated economies have caused rapidly escalating wages and rents, employee churn, inflation, etc.
Maybe it's finally time to take the Spanish course you had been thinking about.