Nearshore Americas

The New Mexico City: Digital Drives Pathway to Cleaner, Safer Future

Mexico City, North America’s largest metropolis, is also the center of Mexico’s economy. Slightly larger in size than Los Angeles, Mexico’s Federal District is home to more than twice as many people.

To put this in perspective, Mexico City’s workforce, the official tally of economically active individuals over age 14, includes nearly 4.5 million people and is larger than L.A.’s entire population. Mexico City’s economy, worth nearly $200 billion per year, is more than four times larger than Costa Rica’s and roughly on par with Peru’s in terms of size. Mexico’s capital city currently ranks as the eight largest urban economy in the world.

Vicente Gutierrez, the head of the Mexico City office of Mexico’s Ministry of Economy explained that “if it were a country Mexico City would be the fifth largest economy in Latin America.” Mexico’s financial and media center, Mexico City is also emerging as a major IT/BPO hub. “The government is pushing for clean industrial development – call centers, IT, businesses that don’t demand water or create pollution,” Guitierrez explained.

Enrique Marcue, an economist from Impacto Social Consultores explained, “Mexico City is a natural area for IT clusters, the city is top rated in terms of education.” In addition to renowned publicly funded universities such as the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) and CIDE, Mexico City is also home to ITAM and Ibero, two of the most prestigious private universities in Latin America.

Rising Quality of Life

Drawn in by Mexico City’s cadre of elite universities and its panoply of competitive industries, over the last five years, thousands of migrants from Asia, Europe, the U.S. and Latin America have moved to Mexico’s capital. In addition to restaurants that highlight the cuisine of other parts of Mexico, the city is also home to a globalized offering of French, Italian, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Chinese and U.S.-style restaurants. Visitors and residents alike enjoy the array of eateries available in vibrant historic neighborhoods such as Polanco, La Roma, and La Condesa. Many professionals also seek out residences or office space in the ultra-modern neighborhood of Santa Fe, a district whose steel-and-glass skyscrapers and luxury boutiques exemplify how much the city has developed since the 1980s and 1990s, when a devastating earthquake and a series of economic crises contributed to an explosive increase in crime.

Today, in terms of homicides per capita Mexico City, is one of the safest major cities in the hemisphere and its police force has been credited with achieving a dramatic decline in the murder rate. In part, the new era of vibrant nightlife and the new cafes and bistros opening in the city’s up-and-coming Roma neighborhood, owe their rise to the success story of Mexico City’s police. Although a few violent incidents in Mexico City have made international headlines during 2013, overall, the underlying dynamic of effective policing and public security programs continues to define Mexico City’s security landscape.

Digital Hub

As a supplement to the offices of financial sector companies such as HSBC and New York Life, customer support centers are opening in Mexico City. “The financial sector is established here. They are now building their own IT centers here instead of looking to outsource to other countries,” Gutierrez explained.

The city government, under the leadership of Mayor Miguel Mancera, has also invested directly in the city’s digital sector, drawing in IT and software professionals to for a Laboratorio Para La Ciudad (Lab for the City) to help connect citizens to the government.

The LabPLC’s director, Gabriella Gomez-Mont, says “We would like to explore the possibilities and challenges of tech in the idiosyncratic space that is Mexico City: an emerging megalopolis, half of whose population is under 26 years old, with an important social divide.”

She and her team are already working on several programs, including Code for Mexico City, an initiative they launched three months ago, in partnership with Code for America. The project brings together six programmers working with five different ministries on digital platforms. Gomez-Mont says the project brings together the “internal know-how of government with new skills and perspectives of a younger generation.”

Next on the agenda is the HackDF, which the Lab will host in January 2014. The event, the first data festival in Mexico City, will bring together “a multidisciplinary crowd as well as people in the IT departments of government in thinking of solutions using data with different methodologies and viewed from different disciplines, not only programmers,” Gomez-Mont says.

Meanwhile, at the federal level of government, a young group of tech whiz kids, including 2013 National Democratic Institute Civic Innovator prize-winner Jorge Soto, are working in Mexico City to help make the government more responsive to citizens.

Hi-Tech Capability

Jose Merino, founder of Data4, a Mexico City-based multimedia start-up, explained that when it comes to new media and IT capabilities, “There’s hardly a better country than Mexico. The number of engineers, quantitative social scientists, and programmers is really unparalleled.” While Monterrey, the industrial city to the north may be “the capital of Mexico’s programming scene…Mexico City has a very talented group of people,” working in both the private and public sectors, Merino said. His company, Data4, focuses on “finding, processing, analyzing, and visualizing data,” he said. He works for Spanish-language media giant Univision on complex data visualization projects and also handles data analysis, product delivery, and marketing consulting for a variety of other clients. Merino coordinates a team of political scientists and programmers who work from Mexico City, Merida, Monterrey, and Jalapa. “We have an office in Mexico City. There are so many creative people in Mexico City…there’s so much potential,” he added.

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Teletech Services

At Teletech center in the heart of Mexico City, a team of young workers handle customer support calls for clients such as US-based cable companies and computer hardware manufacturers. “We have people from a variety of backgrounds. We offer training on how to become a tech support agent, how to talk, how to negotiate,” explained manager Ivana Jovic. “We have the lab with the equipment so they can grab the hardware and follow along with the customer.”

In addition to handling English and Spanish language client support services, Teletech employees also engage in online chat support, email, social networks, and back office support. The company is able to easily hire and train employees thanks to access to Mexico City’s broad university population and the wide network of returning migrants who have come back to Mexico City after living in the US. “People in Mexico are close to the US. They understand US culture. Many of them have lived there,” Jovic said.

While Teletech has offices all over the globe, “Within Latin America, Mexico is the only country with four sites. The quality of the work [done here] has been phenomenal. It’s an industry with incredible potential,” Jovic added.

Nathaniel Parish Flannery

Nathaniel Parish Flannery is a Mexico City based researcher and writer. He has worked on projects throughout Latin America and published articles with Forbes, Fortune, MONOCLE, Americas Quarterly, The Atlantic, and a number of other magazines. He has a Master's degree in International Affairs from Columbia University in New York.

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