San Antonio Offers Positive Example of NAFTA Impact

Article excerpt

SAN ANTONIO _ If President Clinton needs a positive example to help sell the pending North American Free Trade Agreement to the public and Congress, he need look no further than the Alamo City.

While northern cities such as Detroit complain about losing jobs to Mexico, a recent study of companies in San Antonio found at least 200 of them doing business with Mexico.

And, city officials say, those companies employ more than 65,000 workers who directly or indirectly interact in commerce south of the border.

"And the investments aren't going one way," Mayor Nelson Wolff said. "The investments are going both ways."

Wolff pointed to the study, which found about 30 Mexican-owned companies established and conducting business in San Antonio.

Those Mexican-owned companies employ about 350 San Antonians, Wolff said.

"Not only is San Antonio perfectly positioned geographically as the first and largest metropolitan area past the border," said Clinton Bolden Jr., director of the city's Economic Development Department, "but San Antonio also has a population and a culture that is friendly toward doing business with Mexico."

If the free-trade agreement survives an expected close vote in the U.S. House this fall and goes into effect Jan. 1, Bolden said San Antonio is well-positioned for companies seeking a "home base" for capturing trade among Canada, the United States and Mexico.

The accord with Canada and Mexico over 15 years would phase out most barriers, including duties to the free flow of goods, services and investment.

"San Antonio has the potential of being just as strong a commercial trading center as Hong Kong is to China," Bolden said. "San Antonio can be that to Mexico."

Businesses in San Antonio have known that for years.

Nelwyn Graham, business manager for Allied Feeds Inc., said about 10 percent of their livestock and pet feed business is with Mexico.

"We sell more to Nuevo Leon and Monterrey in particular," she said. "We are just now starting to get farther south in the areas north of Mexico City."

Allied Feeds, which employs 30 people in San Antonio, has its corporate headquarters in Cuero.

But having a feed-processing mill in the Alamo City has benefited the development of links to Mexico, Graham said.

"There are so many people from Monterrey _ and from Mexico in general _ who come to San Antonio and feel comfortable doing business here," she said.

Allied Feeds has two other plants in Texas, but Graham said all the Mexico business flows through the San Antonio operation. …