The leader-follower rule is even stronger in Santiago de Queretaro. The capital city is about 140 mi. north of Mexico City and came to aerospace later than areas along the U.S. border. Its lifestyle, with an old town filled with cafes and historic churches, is especially appealing to Europeans. Observers of the progress of Mexico's aerospace industry count Bombardier's 2006 decision to locate in Queretaro as the start of the influx by other big companies, whether OEMs or major suppliers. In Queretaro alone, Meggitt, CFM, Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, Precision Castparts, AE Petsche, Aernnova and Eurocopter have all taken up residence near Bombardier.
Baja California and Sonora are centers for parts shops and actually have bigger company rosters than Chihuahua or Queretaro. Baja's output covers a variety of engine, airframe and interiors supplier functions. Sonora is known as an aero-engines supply center.
Of the roughly 270 aerospace companies currently in Mexico, 79% are in manufacturing, 11% in maintenance, repair and overhaul and 10% in development and engineering, says Vladimiro de la Mora, president of the Mexican Federation of Aerospace Industries (Femia).
Femia's goals are to see the country rank among global aerospace's top 10 supplier nations by 2020; it is now ranks 15th. The federation wants exports of $12 billion a year by then, with half their value coming from local content, and employment of 110,000 workers. Employment is now more than 34,000 and exports are worth $4.5 billion.
Although Mexico's aero business is booming, it is riding a wave of global demand dictated by others. It will live and die by how well U.S., Canadian and European OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers fare. But its factories also can be the tail that wags the dog. In February, Bombardier announced a six-month delay in first delivery of the Lear 85 because of technical challenges with its all-composite airframe, manufactured in Queretaro. These problems have now been overcome, the company says.
In Mexico, plant managers see a national industry in its infancy, still learning the basics but with an eager workforce. “The numbers tell us we are attractive now,” says Kaman Aerostructures plant manager Francisco Meza in Chihuahua. “What I would say is that the industry is not mature enough. One of my major challenges is to make this business more innovative, to introduce more lean.”
Bombardier's director of strategy and international business development, Vice President Michael McAdoo, watches the wage and skill-set forces at work in Mexico closely. His job involves tracking costs and managing capacity for Bombardier's global supplier network. He sees a narrowing cost gap between Mexico and China. China still wins on costs but Mexico has advantages in terms of education, investment climate and infrastructure.
Mexico is “assembling forces for expansion,” he says. “It wants to move into higher value-added activities.” The question is how much it can expand, and how quickly.
Soon after the Queretaro factory opened, Bombardier pulled work into it from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a tradeoff McAdoo characterizes as common with a long-time partner. But even as Mexico becomes more attractive, Bombardier continuously evaluates other locations for its supply chain. New on the list is Casablanca, Morocco.