More than fifty years ago, Mexico identified the importance of cultivating its connections with the Great State of Georgia. The presence of a Mexican representative in Georgia dates back to 1963, when the first Mexican honorary consul to Atlanta was appointed. With the growth of the population of Mexican origin and the expansion of opportunities and exchanges over the years, Mexico strengthened its presence in Atlanta with the creation of a career consular office in 1977 and upgrading it to Consulate General category by the end of 1992. Since then, eleven Mexican Consuls-General have served in Atlanta to encourage a constructive dialogue and a spirit of friendship and cooperation. Georgia has also recognized the importance of promoting and strengthening its relationship with Mexico, and has had an international trade representative in Mexico since 1993 to promote the state’s broader economic interests and business partnerships.
Trade and economic integration have been one of the main drivers of the Mexico- Georgia relationship, especially since the entry into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in January 1994. With a mutual interest in boosting growth, creating jobs, raising living standards and providing affordable and high-quality products to their citizens, Mexico and Georgia have turned into key economic partners in the last 23 years. Today, Mexico-Georgia trade is at historic highs in all aspects. Mexico is Georgia’s fourth largest trading partner, with $9.7 billion dollars in total trade in 2015 (7.5% in 2014-2015), Mexico is Georgia’s fourth largest supplier of goods, with $6.2 billion (3.2 % in 2014-15), and Mexico is the second export destination from Georgia, with $3.4 billion (16.4% in 2014-15), as per most recent foreign trade statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau. It is estimated that 152.5 thousand jobs in Georgia rely on trade with Mexico, according to the Mexican Ministry of Economy’s NAFTA Office.
Mexico-Georgia economic exchanges are not limited to goods and services; they include millions of dollars in foreign direct investment. More than forty U.S. companies based in Georgia have found a thriving market in Mexico, including AGCO, The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Newell Rubbermaid and UPS. These companies are just the tip of the iceberg. They are well known because they are part of America’s largest private companies and make headlines in newspapers and magazines. But Mexico is also an attractive market for medium and small companies well positioned to capitalized in foreign markets, such as Suniva, Inc., a Norcross based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells and modules that has participated in two solar module installation projects in Queretaro in 2013 and 2014 (Delta TechOps of Delta Air Lines and Aeroméxico), and has several ongoing projects in Guanajuato.
Likewise, some Mexican companies with operations in Georgia are Alfa/Sigma Alimentos, Aeroméxico, America Movil/Grupo Carso, Cemex, Gruma, Bimbo, Elektra, Grupo Lala, Industrias CH, International Ceramics, Vitro, Wise Foods/Arca Continental and Xignux. These companies are pouring millions of dollars into Georgia (an estimate of $19.3 million, as per the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Metro Atlanta Chamber), creating thousands of jobs (over 2,500 jobs statewide) and promote production and economic synergies in Georgia.
Without a doubt, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been instrumental in promoting the flow of goods and facilitating people-to-people contacts between Georgia and business centers in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and El Bajío, as well as touristic destinations such as Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta.
Migration has also played an important role promoting interactions between Mexico and Georgia in the last decades. After the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta and their estimated $5 billion dollars economic impact to the metropolitan economy, this pull factor motivated thousands of Mexicans to leave their origin communities in search for better opportunities in the city and the entire Peach State. Georgia is the 26th U.S. state with the largest Mexican-origin community, with more than 519 thousand Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. These people comprise the largest Hispanic group in Georgia —around 62%—. So, it’s safe to assume that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have a significant share in the $17.6 billion Hispanic purchasing power in Georgia, the state’s 32,574 Hispanic-owned businesses, and the $1.9 billion in federal taxes and $1 billion in state/local taxes paid by Hispanics, according to figures produced by the American Immigration Council.
But more than census and economic statistics, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are talented and hard working people with multicultural capacity who are contributing every day to the well-being and growth of Georgia. Juan R. Perez, UPS Chief Information Officer (Atlanta), and Verónica Moreno, Leo Ángeles and Alberto Bazán, respective owners of Olé Mexican Foods, Inc. (Norcross), Olympica Produce Co. (Forest Park) and Murzan, Inc. (Norcross), are remarkable examples of the success of this community. Their origin is not different from the one of 33.7 million people in the U.S.: all of them can trace Mexican blood in their veins either because they chose the U.S. to be their home or they were born here from Mexican immigrants.
Mexicans and Mexican-Americans comprise a substantial and strong part of the fabric of Georgia’s society. They are executive directors of not-for-profit organizations, presidents of chambers of commerce, members of the armed forces, police officers, professionals in the service sector, teachers, researchers, professors, students, “dreamers”… Gainesville’s poultry farms are well aware of the relevance of Mexican and Mexican-American workers for the competitiveness of this industry, as well as cotton farms in South Georgia; peanut, corn and soybean farmers across middle and South Georgia, and pecan farmers in Southwest Georgia. The determination of this community is exemplary and encouraging in every way. On Monday, January 9th, 2017, Ms. Brenda Lopez will start her term as the first Mexican-origin person and the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Georgia General Assembly.
Mexico and Georgia are also working together and helping each other to reach new heights. There are numerous cooperation projects and programs involving prestigious Mexican and Georgian agencies and institutions. Mexico’s National Public Health Institute and Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health have over two decades of experience working together to strengthen public health competences. Mexico’s Health Secretary, the Carter Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s also work with partners in Mexico and the U.S. to improve public health in both countries. Participation of Mexican teachers in the Mexico-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program has been instrumental to meet the educational needs of the Mexican-origin community in the Gainesville City School District.
Amongst other encouraging initiatives, it is worthwhile to point out the enthusiastic enrollment of dozens of Mexican students in summer and fall intensive English courses in Savannah State University, Columbus State University, Mercer University and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the last three years within a bilateral academic exchange program to create North America’s 21st century workforce.
These are some of the stories that bind Mexico and Georgia together. For Mexico, the well-being of 519 thousand Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, thousands of people-to-people yearly contacts, numerous cooperation and academic projects in progress and $6.2 billion in exports are sufficient reasons to continue cultivating friendship and a constructive relationship with Georgia. The Great Peach State has also good reasons to continue engaging and advocating for an open and dynamic relationship with Mexico: at least $3.4 billion in “made in Georgia” and “Georgia grown” products and 152.5 thousand Georgian jobs.
The very own nature of this bilateral relationship is the most hopeful fact for the future: Mexico-Georgia is not described by geography or inexorable realities, but by human connections of mutual interest. It is in the hands of Mexicans and Georgians alike to take care of this positive relationship and keep it moving forward.
Javier Díaz de León
Consul General of Mexico in Atlanta
* With collaboration from Víctor Peláez, Mexican Consul for Political and Economic Affairs.