Juárez, Mexico — It's taken some time, but the Mexican border city of Juárez has become a medical manufacturing base for plastics processor Seisa Group.
Juárez, a city of 1.5 million, is usually known more for its massive factories making electronics and auto parts.
But Seisa President Julio Chiu, a veteran of more than 30 years in manufacturing along the U.S.-Mexico border, would like to change that.
Leading a visitor on a tour of the company's Juárez factories, he talks about why he believes the border area including El Paso, Texas, and southern New Mexico can build a health care manufacturing cluster.
The region of 2.5 million people is a sizable industrial area. It has a little less than 230,000 manufacturing jobs, the same number as the Detroit metro area and a little less than the Houston region.
“The key is the ecosystem that we already have in existence in the area,” Chiu said. “We have three medical schools on both sides of the border. We have the Medical Center of the Americas.
“We have technology innovation centers, and we have a very strong manufacturing base on the southern part of the border,” he said.
Chiu, a banker turned manufacturing executive, is also chairman of the Paso del Norte Biomedical Cluster, which formed this year to build stronger links between manufacturers and health care institutions across the border.
Chiu believes Seisa Group, which is headquartered in El Paso, Texas, shows the potential for medical manufacturing locally.
Since it switched its focus to health care more than a decade ago, the plastics and contract manufacturer has grown from 11 injection molding machines in 2006 to 40 presses today.
It has three extrusion lines, assembly, clean room manufacturing and research and development on minimally invasive devices, mainly catheters. It said it counts some of the world's largest medical device companies as customers.
It's not where Seisa started. It began in 1983 mostly doing assembly and contract manufacturing operations in electronics and textiles, more traditional industries locally.
But Chiu said after he began to see in the late 1990s that Mexico would lose competitiveness and jobs in those industries to Asia — which did happen, to the tune of 80,000 lost jobs in Juárez — he began to shift his company to medical, which today makes up 90 percent of its manufacturing.
He saw the medical industry as one where intellectual property concerns and regulatory requirements would make it less likely to move manufacturing to Asia.