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  Business (and opportunity) In Puebla, by Bruce McGovern
Raul is an excellent machinist, as well as a good businessman and a brilliant engineer.

His original goal, when he left the large company in February, was to build a bottling machine, and make bottles to sell to small users. He expected it would take at least a year to establish that business, so he started taking machinist jobs in the plastic process industry to keep cash flowing. That "side business" took off with a vengeance. He is working 12 hours a day, almost six days a week, and his bottle machine parts are in a heap until he gets time to assemble it.

He repaired a mold for ****, S.A., a major producer of bleaches and cleaners, with several thousand employees, and then they hired him to make a power trimmer to remove excess plastic from large plastic containers, to eliminate a worker with a knife. He expected to finish the machine in three weeks, but they started sending him every sort of part to repair, or to duplicate. They have at least twenty to thirty bottle-making machines, and several of them seem to be broken at any given moment.

Imagine a steel rod, like a crowbar with threads on the ends, 2.5 inches thick, and three feet long. And, it was twisted into two pieces near one end. That piece of steel should have been capable of suspending a semi-truck, complete with loaded trailer, in the air. Raul said it was, but the forces involved in an extrusion machine are much greater than that. He says Japanese steel is inferior to the U.S. and Swiss steels. He buys his U.S. made steel from a branch of Carpenter company here in Puebla.

****, S.A., called him Friday night about the machine that was out of commission. Working Saturday until midnight, he delivered the new part Sunday morning. Instead of waiting 3 or more weeks for a replacement part that cost $1,000 USD to come from Japan, he charged them $500 USD for one day's work in his shop. They were very happy, and so was he.

Of course, he had expenses. I suspect he had to pay his machinist at least $10 for the day, plus cost of the steel bar, and part went to pay for his lathe.

Raul said it is almost impossible to borrow money in Mexico. He bought his new Czech made Trencin lathe, from FAMA, a sales branch of the company which makes them. The only way they can sell any machines in Mexico is to provide their own financing system. They let him have it on a six month note, and he is way ahead on paying it, so they told him he can have any machine he wants. Most machine shops are way behind on payments, because the customers simply stall paying for a month or two. He told ****, S.A., he had to be payed within fifteen days, or he wouldn't make any more parts. Since his parts almost always work, and the other machine shops take many tries to supply working parts, they agreed.

He knows a man who bought an expensive machine from FAMA, and paid it off on his first order for 10,000 pieces from VW. Raul had to turn down an order for 4 molds, each costing $60,000 only because the machine to make them would cost $250,000, and there is no way he could get that machine. If he could, he would probably pay for it within 6 months. But, he says, that's the real reason Mexico doesn't prosper. The demand is there; the talent is there, but the capital investments needed to prosper are impossible to obtain.

So, major capital goods continue to be imported at high cost, while those capable of making them much cheaper are out of work.

Raul says a college graduate engineer working as a factory supervisor gets paid maybe $60 a week. So, workers clearly get paid much less.

I went with him one day to visit ****'s while he took measurements to repair and manufacture some damaged machine parts. There was no gold-bricking at all. The workers were working much harder than we did where I "worked" for 31 years.

Raul said it is very hard to get really good employees at the skill level he needs. He said if he could get highly qualified employees, and financing machines, there is almost no limit to how large his busines would grow.

We had a discussion on the topic that 'poverty breeds poverty', through the values system kids acquire from their families. He said if he gives his machinist a bonus, he doesn't come to work on Monday, much like some of our auto workers, who figure they have enough money, and would rather have a three day weekend than more money. And, he is convinced if the machinist becomes competent enough to earn the $100 a week he has promised, the machinist will take another woman with the extra money. His machinist is not much more than an apprentice at this point, needing close supervision to make parts.

Raul says it is still possible to come from extreme poverty and be successful. He did! He said the claims that it costs too much to go to school are not true. One needs to get up every morning with single-minded determination, just as he did, and almost anyone from any social class can get a college degree. But, when mothers sometimes are forced to send three year old DAUGHTERS to live in the street so the younger kids can eat, I can only agree with him in theory. Raul is a brilliant man, and that clearly is a major factor in every part of his success, not just determination.

.... Ten years ago, I sat beside a UNICEF official on a flight to Mexico City. We talked about my plans for retirement. He said the problem with the indigenous people in Mexico, they know about technology, but they don't believe it's for THEM. So, he urged me to stick with my electronics, and work with some international organization to obtain donated computers for rural, indigenous schools. He said it would take only one kid from a school to become a techie, and the dam would break, with younger kids believing they, too, might make the grade.

Bruce McGovern writing from Puebla, Mexico

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