WASHINGTON– The tallest lighthouse in the world sits atop a mountain in Mazatlan– a resort town in Sinaloa, Mexico, built around culture, tourism and tuna fishing. This is where Virginia Olalde Lopez-Gavito grew up.
Lopez-Gavito, 22, has since represented her country around the world. She now interns at the Mexican Embassy in Washington.
Tuesday, Lopez-Gavito joined former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and several dozen people at the Center for Strategic and International Studies to hear Gov. José Calzada Rovirosa of Querétaro, Mexico as he spoke about the role increased security has played in growing Mexico’s economy.
The arrest of Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in Lopez-Gavito’s hometown is a good sign for the Mexican government and economy, he said.
“Last Saturday, something important happened that sends a really important message to both countries,” Rovirosa said. “The first one has to do with rule of law… The second one has to do with sharing valuable information to the U.S. to achieve what matters between the two countries and to build trust.”
Making security a priority in Querétaro, a state just north of Mexico City, has been one of the main forces driving the state’s economic growth, he said. The state’s economy–based largely on automotives and tourism–has grown by 5.5 percent in the last year. In the last two years, the number of companies in the state has grown from two to 52.
“If this speech had taken place two years ago, we would only be speaking about security–drugs. Now we’re speaking about the opportunity to grow,” he said. “We’re all thinking about growth.”
Lopez-Gavito asked the governor how her brother, an aeronautical engineering student in Canada, could get a job back home. Though nerves broke her English more than usual, Lopez-Gavito questioned the governor directly, asking who her older brother could contact to find a job in Mexico.
Give me his number, Rosivora told her. I’ll call him.
Mexicans with specialized degrees, like Lopez-Gavito’s brother, show promise for ways Mexico and the U.S. can work together to build jobs on both sides of the boarder, he said.
“We have pursued quality of life and we have pursued education,” Rovirosa said.
Besides security, he said, education is one of the biggest challenges in Mexico. Mexican universities only have the capacity for 33 percent of students seeking higher education. Many students–about 100,000–study in the U.S.
Lopez-Gavito, who is currently enrolled in a Mexican university, agreed that higher education in Mexico has a long way to go.
“If Mexico wants to prosper, the key is to educate more of the people,” she said. To do this the country needs more universities and higher quality teachers, she said. Improving basic education would also encourage professional growth.
The governor said increased trust between the U.S. and Mexico could help Mexico meet its educational demands while helping the U.S. meet its labor demands. The U.S. economy needs about 200,000 engineers per year, but only produces 90,000 he said.
“If we don’t focus on education, we’ve missed it,” Rovirosa said. “Mexico needs it, but also the U.S. can take advantage of it.”
Slater, the transportation secretary under President Bill Clinton, agreed, whispering “it’s true” from the second row of the audience. Slater took the microphone during the Q&A session to speak about education exchanges between Querétaro and Arkansas State University, where he formerly worked as the director of government affairs, saying he hopes to see similar exchanges in the future.
Slater said he also anticipates opportunities for U.S. companies in the service and transportation industries to expand to Querétaro.
“We’ve got a strong foundation on which to build,” Slater said.
Rovirosa hopes the expanding economy and growth in education will afford Mexican nationals who have attended universities–within Mexico and internationally–the opportunity to work for major multinational companies back at home.
“I always tell the kids in the universities, ‘you are universal,’” he said. “You can work for the United States by working in Querétaro.”