The New State Line.

Position::Mexico attempts to attract big business - Brief Article

Mexican states are opening U.S. offices to push trade and investment opportunities, not just culture.

PATRICIA HERRERA'S OFFICE LOOKS more like a Red Cross relief station than a Mexican state's trade office. Its entryway is piled high with shopping bags and boxes of food, apple juice and other provisions for the flood victims in the southeastern state of Tabasco. But, in the midst of all this are examples of Mexican products, from woven dresses from Oaxaca to silver works from Guerrero. Herrera, the office's director, breezes in, apologizing for being 30 minutes late. "Things have been a little crazy," she says, catching her breath.

Herrera is one-woman trade representative for Mexico. Over the past 10 years, she has, at one time or another, represented three Mexican states in the United States--Oaxaca, Guerrero and Tabasco. She's now bidding for more, including Veracruz, Puebla and Coahuila. "These states need promotion in the US.," she says. "I'm like their liaison."

Under President Ernesto Zedillo, Mexico's very centralized federal government has been throwing power, funding and responsibility to its 31 states and the Federal District. To boost trade, investment and tourism, many state bureaucrats are opening trade offices north of the border and tapping well-connected people like Herrera to run them.

While several Mexican states have long had a U.S. presence, their "casas," or houses, have largely been aimed at promoting tourism and culture. Now, the state offices are trying to attract big business in trade and investment.

Nuevo Leon, for example, recently reopened its "casa" in San Antonio, Texas, to focus on trade, instead of the old emphasis on culture alone. Three years ago, Guanajuato--led by its trade-minded governor and presidential wannabe, Vicente Fox-- opened an office in New York City; it subsequently opened one each in Dallas and Los Angeles. Last fall, Yucatan and Campeche opened trade offices in Miami, and Tabasco is coming soon. "With Nafta, all these states are trying to get known," says Marco Dosal, press attache for the Mexican consulate in Houston.

The 49-year-old Herrera is an old hand when it comes to representing Mexico's states in Houston, rubbing elbows with government officials, wheeling and dealing with local businessmen and leading trade missions to her states. In conversation, she casually drops the names of several local power brokers. She was even named businesswoman of the year by Houston's Hispanic...

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