Hoping to take advantage of proximity to Mexico and benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the new head of an important international business group plans to put this historic city on the map as a distribution haven.
Jose E. Martinez, former head of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency in the Bush and Clinton administrations, said in an interview that he has big
plans for the Free Trade Alliance San Antonio.The alliance is funded by the city, the local Chamber of Com- merce, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. Mr. Martinez took over in May and hopes to move quickly to attract companies who are looking for distribution opportunities.
"We feel very strongly that both business cultures and regular cultures begin in San Antonio," Mr. Martinez said, noting that the Nafta opens border states to international trucking on Dec. 18 and that his organization will try to take advantage by promoting warehousing and distribution.
"We feel that San Antonio is the border, that geographically in Laredo it's an artificial border because really the business begins right here," he said, referring to the fact that Laredo has boomed because trucks have had to hand over freight to each other there at the border.
However, although few expect the interlining pattern to change immediately, the border-state openings are expected to eventually mean a single truck carrying a trailer between Mexico's industrial city of Monterrey and San Antonio or other important Texas cities.
San Antonio hopes to offer cheaper land and a larger market than Laredo, and through its proximity serve as a distribution site for major cities like Dallas and Houston.
One advantage currently enjoyed by Laredo - the major long-haul trucking port for Mexico traffic - is the range of value-added services provided at the border. The alliance is working to catch up in that category, Mr. Martinez suggested.
"It's a well known fact that traders need international logistics, international telecommunications, international banking and financial support, international marketing services and international legal services," he said. ''We do have in the city of San Antonio most of those services and what we are planning to do is packaging those services and taking them to potential businesses."
With Mexico's currency collapse, Mexican exports are cheaper in U.S. markets and Mr. Martinez hopes to also attract Mexican firms to distribute in Texas.
"Mexico, in order to resolve its financial crisis, needs dollars, to sell their products. And we hope to convince them through the alliance that this is a good place to bring their products so we can help them sell," he said.