Tijuana Group Embarks On $5 Million Image Makeover
Can Al Gore, Larry King and the founder of Twitter help Tijuana improve its image? That’s the hope of businessmen behind a two-week long $5 million PR effort that starts in Tijuana Thursday. Jose Galicot is the Tijuana businessman behind Tijuana Innovadora, the two-week long, $5 million conference that begins Thursday.
Galicot says the idea to show off the border city to the world came from his heart . . .literally.
“I was in San Diego feeling very bad because I had problems with my heart. And I went to the doctor and he said, you need a valve. And I said okay.”
A part of the valve, the doctor tells him, is made in Tijuana. “In Tijuana?” questions Galicot. “Valve for the heart? It’s impossible. They don’t make these sophisticated things in Tijuana.”
The doctor elaborates and says, in fact, 100 percent of the stent rings inside heart valves used in America are made in the border city.
Galicot says his operation was a success. But, shortly afterward, in 2009, the City of Tijuana was ailing. “We were in a big depression,” Galicot recalls. Gruesome drug violence dominated the news. The city’s economy was sputtering.
In the midst of this, Galicot began talking with a few friends in Tijuana about his heart valve. “I told them, we make these sophisticated things and they say, not only this, all the things that they use to communicate, the astronauts, are made in Tijuana.” As is the knee brace Sean Merriman of the San Diego Chargers uses.
Galicot says he began visiting some of Tijuana’s nearly 600 manufacturing plants to find out what else they make. He found Bluetooth headsets, the majority of the world’s air traffic controller headsets, and 20 million TVs. There were HD, 3D and plasma screens.
Galicot says all of these high-tech products were like a secret to the locals, “Because the nature of the factories were to export the merchandise, not sell it here. So, now we have to tell the world what is happening in Tijuana.”
While at the core of Tijuana Innovadora is the city’s manufacturing sector, the event has built up a head of steam and expanded to include technology and culture.
Al Gore will speak. So will CNN’s Larry King and the founders of Twitter and Qualcomm. (Story continues below)
Mexico’s President will kick it all off. Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, will also be there.
Many events are free. Some cost $100. The five gala dinners go for $2,000. Galicot says one of the goals is to attract new investment to the city. But there’s another, “We are in this program for respect. This is what we want.”
But respect only goes so far. People need to trust that Tijuana is safe. Drug murders grind on in the city’s outskirts. Tons of drugs continue to pass through.
The city has made progress fighting organized crime. Nevertheless, spectacular violence in other parts of the country casts a long shadow.
Michael Belch teaches marketing at San Diego State University. He says a city can change its image. He points to Pittsburgh as an example. “They changed the product first.,” he says. “They cleaned it up. And now it really has transcended itself from being a steel town to a high tech medical center as well as a tourist center.”
Belch says, in Tijuana’s case, though tourists might be scared, investors tend to be more savvy about the city’s potential. “If they’re able to attract industry, with industry comes money. With money things start getting better there then, perhaps, the tourists would come back,” he hypothesizes.
Tijuana’s economic health is vital to San Diego. In 2008, shoppers from Tijuana accounted for nearly 12 percent of retails sales in San Diego. That’s about $6 billion.
James Clark, who directs the Mexico Business Center in San Diego, says together, the two cities have great potential in the global market. “We can do R and D, we can do administration, we can use our universities. And they can do some of the heavy manufacturing we can’t do on this side,” says Clark.
Back in Jose Galicot’s office, he ran through his spiel for two national radio stations the afternoon we visited and did nine interviews that previous day.
Galicot says Tijuana is like a precious egg and it's time to make some noise about it. “And the hen makes qua, qua, qua,” says Galicot, “And that is what we are doing. Qua, qua, qua with our egg.”
But business analysts say Galicot shouldn’t count his chickens before they hatch. It’ll take more than two weeks of Tijuana Innovadora to revitalize the city’s economy.