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When US Firms Move to Mexico, Some Workers Win, Some Lose


Three Tajima embroidery machines whirl frenetically, completing a gold letter "C" in three minutes. Printer Luis Bustos repositions the T-shirts and presses the switch. The machine surges.

Florist Veronica Alday wraps Christmas poinsettias in red tissue paper to display for workers at the Carrier Corp.

Which of these small-business owners is in Monterrey, Mexico? Which is in Indianapolis, Indiana?

Printer Luis Bustos came to the U.S. to start his own business, something he said was not easy in Mexico. (C. Presutti/VOA)
Printer Luis Bustos came to the U.S. to start his own business, something he said was not easy in Mexico. (C. Presutti/VOA)

The cities and their surrounding areas have been in the news lately because of a deal struck by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to prevent 800 Carrier furnace manufacturing jobs from moving to the outskirts of Monterrey from Indianapolis. Another 550 Indiana union jobs will still go to Mexico.

"If there is no work in the factories, then there's going to be unemployment, so who is going to have money to buy flowers, right?" Alday asked, expressing a universal anxiety about manufacturing.

Carrier effect

A few hundred jobs will not change the overall prosperity of either of these two metropolitan areas. Monterrey is at the center of the second-richest area in Mexico. In 2010, it had 13,000 manufacturing companies. The number has since grown.

Indianapolis is thriving, too. Its metropolitan area is the 26th-largest economic region in the United States. While manufacturing is still among its biggest industries, the region has diversified. And even manufacturing, which took a dive during the 2008 recession, has recovered better here than in other places.

But the Carrier decision will impact individual workers - and what VOA learned when it traveled to both metropolitan areas is how their working climates differ, yet workers' concerns don't.

Will Cornett is keeping his $23-an-hour job at the Indianapolis plant after fearing he would lose it.

"Praying every night," he said, "just believing in Trump, pretty much."

Chuck Jones, who for 30 years has been president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, representing employees at Carrier's Indianapolis plant, put no faith in Trump; his union endorsed neither the businessman nor his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in the presidential election. And late Wednesday, Jones was the target of a pair of Trump tweets.

Jones' anger is all over his face. He knows too well what will happen to Carrier workers who still face layoffs, having been through numerous plant closures.

"When everything's over and done with, very few people's lives are going to be as good economically as they were when they were working," he said, chain-smoking Marlboros.

Zahid Gonzalez-Trevino, 19, made about $73 a week at Carrier's plant in Santa Catarina, near Monterrey, about 230 kilometers southwest of the border town of Laredo, Texas. But he shrugged off the loss of his job during a production layoff. "It's not hard to find a job around there," he said.

In addition to lower wages, U.S. companies move to Monterrey for its proximity to the U.S., two airports, good telecommunications and a young workforce. Mexico's median age is 28.

The companies come "because the people work. Because the human resources are here. Because the people are welcoming. Because the people work hard," Santa Catarina Mayor Hector Castillo-Olivares said proudly.

The florist and the printer

Veronica Alday's small floral and gift shop is across from the Carrier plant in Santa Catarina. Even in Mexico, her experience teaches her to worry about the future of her customer base at Carrier. She used to work in a Dutch factory, Hortimex, that cooked and processed U.S.-bound broccoli and cauliflower. Her job was to cut the vegetables into quarters.

"The factory no longer exists.There's a lot of uncertainty here," Alday said. "We hope that Trump doesn't do all that he promised, but there's really no doubt that he will."

Marcela Bedoya, behind the counter, owns Print and Save in Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband. Luis Bustos, who is from Mexico City, Mexico. (C. Presutti/VOA)
Marcela Bedoya, behind the counter, owns Print and Save in Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband. Luis Bustos, who is from Mexico City, Mexico. (C. Presutti/VOA)

Printer Luis Bustos came to the U.S. to start his own business, something he said was not easy in Mexico, where his brother still struggles with the status quo.

"[Shoppers] choose, like, big companies or big names, or that kind of stuff," he said. "Here ... you don't have to be Superman to set up a business. And people will follow you as long as you have quality and a few things that people look for."

In Indiana, Bustos registered the name "Print and Save" online in 45 minutes, got his business license in a few hours and the key to his office space after one interview. He had a business plan and within three months was paying back his initial investment. His customers are other small businesses, so the ebbs and flows of manufacturing don't hurt him.

He stands in front of the wall he built — his first investment — to divide his shop. It is now lined with shelves of brightly colored T-shirts.

"To be honest, I'm not the kind of person who thinks it is hard to live here," Bustos said. "I think it's more like mind things than really happening."

The metal cooker

Next week, the Rexnord ball bearing company will begin severance negotiations with its 300 employees.Less than three kilometers from Carrier in Indianapolis, the factory is closing in March and its jobs are going to Mexico. The only help that Trump has offered is another of his tweets.

Heat treatment operator Joshua Shartzer will be losing his job, which he described as cooking metal. He works at it 10 hours a day, seven days a week, with overtime and double time on Sundays.

"I spend more time with my co-workers than my family. But my wife and children realize this is not forever. If the money's there, I'm going to take advantage of it. Got college coming up," he said, referring to education costs for his children.

Shartzer thought the Carrier deal was "awesome." But he said he didn't foresee help for Rexnard.

"We don't do $10 billion in defense contracts," he said. "We're not in almost every house in America with our air-conditioning and furnace units."

In any case, Rexnord's move is a done deal, said Oscar Cantu Garcia, mayor of the Mexican town where Rexnord is relocating. The corporation "made an investment of $56 million to work here, and that's something that no one is going to stop," he said.

An embroidery machine operates at printer Luis Bustos' shop, Print and Save, in Indianapolis. He says he was able register the shop's name and get his business license quickly, arrange for office space in one interview and begin paying back his initial investment within three months. (C. Presutti/VOA)
An embroidery machine operates at printer Luis Bustos' shop, Print and Save, in Indianapolis. He says he was able register the shop's name and get his business license quickly, arrange for office space in one interview and begin paying back his initial investment within three months. (C. Presutti/VOA)

Four men recently huddled on bar stools at Sully's Bar and Grill in a strip mall near the Carrier plant in Indianapolis. In all, they'd worked 126 years for Carrier. Under a frieze of red Christmas stockings, they agreed the future of the United States depended on a manufacturing base.

"We have to make things and trade things," one said. "That's what makes up a society, or else we flirt with collapse."

But Shartzer said he was no longer counting on big companies. He wants the freedom to control his own fate. He is thinking about "going into real estate investing."

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy, Silver World Medal, AP Broadcaster’s Best of Show, and Clarion award-winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous TV, Radio, Multimedia, and Digital awards for her TV/Web coverage of Muslim Portraits, The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.  Presutti was VOA’s Nathanson Scholar to the Aspen Institute and VOA’s delegate to the U.S. government’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP).

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