The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1994, Volume 40, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Manufacturing Across Borders And Oceans: Japan, The United States And Mexico.

Monograph Series, 36. Gabriel Szekely, Editor. La Jolla: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1991. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 126 pages. Buy this book from Amazon.comReviewed by Armando A. Arias, Jr., Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, Texas A&I University and Founder of the Binational English & Spanish Telecommunications Network. Author of numerous articles on U.S. – Mexico relation.

Like most of the research studies produced by the Center for U.S. Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, this monograph is not to be taken lightly. It is a no nonsense report “grounded” in case studies, as analyzed in a strategic manner, performed by a team of researchers with an uncanny research prowess.

The “….objective in this volume has been to trace the development of Japanese manufacturing firms and some of their effects in the U.S. and Mexican economies” (p. vii). Hence, the authors place into historical context the proliferation of Japanese and U.S. companies in Mexico and analyze their impact as associated with global, national, and local changes in the economy, technology, and politics.

Even though the authors do not use the latest term in the “development field” (especially of Third World countries) or “local capability building” they certainly have a thorough understanding of it. They examine the role of technology as a means for improving the know-how, and technical skills of the local workforce. U.S. and Japanese firms are examined in a competitive light as far as achieving higher levels of productivity, improved technology, a positive reputation, and degrees at which they benefit form foreign direct investment. From one perspective the Japanese are depicted as the “technological innovators,” whereas the U.S. firms are depicted as the “Johnnys come lately.” In other words, the investment and manufacturing reality has been that the Japanese seem to have ongoing highly innovative business plans, who’s success is measured by their ability to diversify in both good and bad economic times. Mexico appears to welcome high-tech industries, but “….there is no evidence that the administration has a consistent vision of what form industrial structure should take” (p.72).

Employing first hand survey data gathered by the research team, which included hundreds of visits to “maquiladoras” (if you do not know the word, you probably will not be as interested in the book, as if you did know the meaning), economist, political scientists and sociologists will be most appreciative of the methodological sections. Sometimes the reader may ask where such research energy emanates, especially when discovering that the team publishes a biannual newsletter as a “feedback strategy” to inform the numerous manufacturing plants (that took part in the study) of their research findings, and the project’s status.

Even so, more qualitative data would add to the study . Perhaps a section on how corporate secrets are closely guarded in a manufacturing setting. Or a social research approach to the degree of fear Mexicans have of foreign corporate domination.

Although the monograph is only one hundred and twenty pages in length, the reader may find the information so intriguing that often a re-read is necessary (albeit, pleasurable) to gain a deeper understanding.

Academics, corporate business investors and managers interested in the nature of joint business ventures, would be remiss if they did not read this monograph. It simply provides a paradigm for looking at the most important variables in the maquiladora industry, such as, supplier control mechanisms, technological security/breakthroughs, contractual relationships, market destination, investment timing, and government priorities, all reflective of the changing environment.

In this way, the monograph may be seen as a “manual” for those interested in developing strategic thinking about how to interact with Mexico in a manufacturing setting, or how to compete with the U.S. or Japan, or how to globalize a manufacturing operation. These are all topics of great concern to both corporate manufactures, and those who study them.

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