The Tijuana Connection, a Template for Growth – NYTimes.com
Mexico: The New China
By CHRIS ANDERSON
IN November I quit my job as the editor of Wired to run 3D Robotics, the San Diego-based drone company I started with a partner as a side project three years ago. We make autopilot technology and small aircraft — both planes and multirotor copters — that can fly by themselves. The drones, which sell for a few hundred bucks, are for civilians: they don’t shoot anything but photographs and videos. And they’re incredibly fun to build (which we do with the ample help of robots). It wasn’t a hard decision to give up publishing for this.
But my company, like many manufacturers, is faced with a familiar challenge: its main competitors are Chinese companies that have the dual advantages of cheap labor and top-notch engineering. So, naturally, when we were raising a round of investment financing last year, venture capitalists demanded a plausible explanation for how our little start-up could beat its Chinese rivals. The answer was as much a surprise to the investors as it had been to me a few years earlier: Mexico. In particular, Tijuana.
Like many Americans, until recently, when I heard “Tijuana” I thought only of drug cartels and cheap tequila. “TJ,” though, is a city of more than two million people (larger than neighboring San Diego), and it has become North America’s electronics assembly hot spot: most of the flat-screen TVs sold in the United States, from companies like Samsung and Sony, are made there, along with everything from medical devices to aerospace parts. Jordi Muñoz, the smart young guy who had taught me about drones and then started 3D Robotics with me, is from TJ — and he persuaded me to build a second factory there to supplement the work we were doing in San Diego.