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Mission to Mexico to promote business: City officials, corporate leaders to take part in trip

April 18, 2005

Most Hoosiers visiting Mexico spend their time on the beaches of Cancun, Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta.

But this fall, an excursion of a different kind will take local business and civic leaders south of the border to explore new opportunities for commerce and trade with Mexico.

The week-long mission, scheduled for early September, is the brainchild of Sergio Aguilera, Mexico's consul general for Indianapolis. He hopes that exposing Hoosiers to all facets of Mexican life-from government and the economy to culture and education-will give central Indiana business a leg up in establishing new contacts in the country.

"Just visiting Mexico will be an eyeopening experience for many businesspeo ple," Aguilera said.

Indiana companies already sell upwards of $2 billion in goods annually to Mexican customers, making Mexico the state's No. 2 international trading partner behind Canada. Those products include machinery, tools, software and auto parts.

But Aguilera believes there is more work to do in forging closer ties.

"The better we know each other and the more comfortable we feel with each other, the better off we will be," he said.

Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has accepted an invitation to be a part of the trip, but the rest of the 30-person roster is still being assembled, Aguilera said. For the most part, it will consist of business owners and executives who are interested in meeting potential partners, suppliers and manufacturers in Mexico. Representatives from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and the Indianapolis Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are also set to go along.

Once the participants are selected, the consulate will host a teleconference to help the Indiana delegation learn important

background information about Mexico. Topics will include labor laws, trade reg- ulations and rules for establishing a company-"anything and everything people going to the country to start a business would like to know," Aguilera said.

The itinerary also is still in the planning stages, but for now, stops are scheduled for Mexico City and the factory-rich city of Monterrey in the northeast part of the country.

On the tentative agenda are meetings with government and business officials in both cities. But Aguilera wants visitors from Indiana to get a glimpse of more than just the Mexican business scene, so the trip will go beyond factory tours and conference-room presentations.

"I decided it should not concentrate only on trade or business," he said, "but be broader in outlook and try to include as many other areas as possible-tourism, culture, arts, education, media, philanthropy."

In doing so, Hoosiers can expand their horizons but also share valuable information and advice with their Mexican counterparts. "Everybody will win something," Aguilera added.

Aguilera is looking forward to expanding on his traditional role as general consul, which mostly consists of issuing passports, visas and other documents to Mexican immigrants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. The consulate, which opened its Union Station office in 2002, also helps immigrants find legal representation and other key services.

It's a tall order, considering that at least 33,000 Hispanics were living here as of the last census in 2000. That number easily doubles when factoring in illegal immigrants.

As such, promoting stronger commercial ties between Mexico and the region hasn't been a front-burner issue since the consulate opened.

"We're overwhelmed with the demand for all those [other] services, so I have to admit that we have not been doing much on the business side of things," Aguilera said.

A former high-level bank executive in Mexico, Aguilera led consulates in Sydney, Australia, Toronto and Shanghai before coming to Indianapolis. There were relatively few Mexicans living in those cities, so he was able to devote substantial time to business development.

With some 45,000 local jobs depending on trade with Mexico, central Indiana is fortunate to have Aguilera and the consulate in its corner, said Ricardo Gambetta, director of Latino Affairs for the Mayor's Office.

With the consulate's help, Gambetta said, those numbers can only go up.

"It is very important to increase the number of local companies doing business with Mexico," he said.

One goal for the trip is to begin a dialogue with Mexican-run airlines about setting up direct flights between Indianapolis and Mexico. Gambetta admitted it's an ambitious plan, but, he said, "we believe there is a lot of potential there."

As far as he knows, the planned mission will be the first of its kind for central Indiana business, Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Roland Dorson said.

He credits Aguilera for coming up with an idea that is expected to bring concrete results to the local economy.

"One thing we're interested in doing is helping not only our members but companies throughout central Indiana compete more successfully on the world stage. In order to do that, you need to know things and people," Dorson said. "If we can capitalize on the relationships and direct access to the Mexican government and markets that Sergio has, that would be a real bonus."
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