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El Paso: international industrialization.

El Paso: International Industrialization

With a population approaching 600,000, El Paso is one of the 70 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. (using the consolidated metropolitan area definitions), but by this measure, El Paso is dwarfed on its own turf. Ciudad Juarez, located just across the Rio Grande, has more than twice as many residents as El Paso. Geographically removed from the rest of the state, El Paso is closer to the capitals of two other U.S. states and three Mexican states than it is to Austin.

Two of the major forces in the El Paso economy are the federal government and manufacturing. Both have a long history of involvement in the local economy, but the details of that involvement have changed over the years. The major federal installation in the area is Fort Bliss, a training and air defense artillery center.

Large-scale manufacturing came to El Paso in 1887 with the opening of what is now the Asarco smelter. This facility, located in the pass for which El Paso was named, has processed ore from all over the west and continues in operation today. In later years, apparel came to be the dominant manufacturing activity, accounting for over 60 percent of El Paso's industrial employment during the mid-1970s. Apparel is no longer the dominant industry, although Blue Bell (Wrangler) and Lee continue to operate major plants in the area. In late February, Glamour Sportswear of New York announced plans to locate a new plant in El Paso that will ultimately employ up to 400 people.

Despite a sharp decline in the apparel industry, El Paso has had a significant gain in manufacturing employment in recent years. Part of the increase in El Paso manufacturing employment is attributable to the maquila boom in Juarez. About 1,100 maquila plants are located in Mexico along the border, employing over 300,000 people. Much of this activity (275 plants and about 100,000 jobs) is concentrated in Juarez. The operators of these plants include American, European, and Japanese multinational companies such as General Motors, United Technologies, Phillips, and Toshiba. Many of the managerial employees of these plants live in El Paso and commute across the border. The products made in the maquilas are varied, but some of the most visible are electronics, small appliances, and automotive components. Wiring harnesses are the leading automotive product made in Juarez.

The maquila plants put El Paso/Juarez on the global industrial map. This activity has spawned support services and additional facilities on both sides of the river. New plants on the El Paso side have been opened in recent months by Hoover and Yazaki, among others. A second foreign trade zone is planned in the Wesport development on the west edge of El Paso, supplementing the Butterfield Trail facility located near the airport. Meanwhile, in nearby Santa Teresa, New Mexico, two new plants are under construction and another is expanding. One of the new plants and the expansion involve the auto industry. El Paso is not likely to displace Detroit as an auto center, but more and more automotive parts are being made in the area.

With or without the recent growth, El Paso is not without its problems. Like most of the rest of the border, El Paso is poor: El Paso per capita income is the lowest of the major metropolitan areas in the United States. El Paso unemployment rates are typically higher than the state or national averages. Although local crime rates are not particularly high, auto thefts are a visible and well-publicized problem. With average rainfall of less than eight inches per year, water is also a problem. Strangely, El Paso water rates are lower than those of many cities with abundant water supplies. Although the price of the water is low, citations are issued for allowing excessive water to run into the street, as more than one careless lawn-waterer and car-washer has discovered.

El Paso marches to a different drummer. Whether on the parade ground at Fort Bliss, in a mariachi band, or along an electronic assembly line, the beat is a bit different than in the rest of Texas. Because local clocks are set an hour behind the rest of the state, a local evening newscast refers to itself as "the last word in Texas." Nevertheless, although some El Pasoans refer to the expanse of West Texas that separates them from the rest of the state as "the big empty," a popular local bumper sticker reads, "El Pasoans are Texans too."

Charles P. Zlatkovich Associate Professor University of Texas at El Paso
COPYRIGHT 1989 University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Business Research
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Zlatkovich, Charles P.
Publication:Texas Business Review
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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