On the sidelines of the first U.S.-Mexico border trade conference held last week in Arizona, a group stared at a map of the United States. The 50 states were colored various shades of blue. The darker the state was, the more it exported to Mexico. As expected, California, Arizona and Texas were dark blue but so were Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin. The map showed what many on the border have known for awhile: Mexico is vital to the U.S. economy.
A buzz is developing around the strength of Mexico's growing middle class and what it could mean for U.S. businesspeople and politicians in the border region. But there is also frustration that when it comes to Mexico, the United States -- particularly lawmakers in Washington, D.C. -- continue to focus almost exclusively on security, drugs and illegal immigration.
While these issues are real, so is Mexico's economic success story. Here are five ways it impacts the United States that you probably didn't know about.
1. Trade with Mexico sustains around six million jobs in the U.S. The Mexican economy is growing around 4 percent this year, more than twice as fast as the U.S. economy. This is why Mexicans are consuming U.S. goods at an increasing rate as they move into the middle class.
2. Mexico is a world leader in the production of computers, mobile telephones and flat screen TVs. NAFTA and other trade agreements have forced Mexican industry to become competitive. Mexico excels in the production of bulkier goods, like cars and refrigerators. One reason is that it is much cheaper to transport to markets in the U.S., Canada and Latin America.
3. U.S. export sales to Mexico, at $200 billion in 2011, are larger than all U.S. exports to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) combined. People love to talk about Brazil and China, but we have a fast-growing emerging market right on our doorstep. It's time we paid more attention to it.
4. Mexico is the number one or number two export market for 22 U.S. states. It's not just the border states that benefit from Mexican demand. The state of Michigan is the third-highest exporter to Mexico behind Texas and California (Illinois and Ohio rank number five and six). Detroit exports more to Mexico than any city in the U.S., mainly thanks to auto parts exported for assembly.
5. For every dollar that Mexico makes on exports to the U.S., it uses 50 cents to spend on U.S. products or services. Our two economies are interlinked. The Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center says that 40 percent of Mexican imports to the states are made with U.S. content, compared to just 4 percent from China.
Economists Chris Wilson and Erik Lee point out that "the United States and Mexico do not just sell goods to one another, they actually work together to manufacture them."
Working together not only supports U.S. jobs, but also creates well-paying jobs in Mexico. More jobs in Mexico mean that more middle-class Mexicans can buy Ford trucks and shop at Costco. It may also mean that less feel the need to cross the border.
The reality is that U.S. and Mexican business interests are linked, and the two are cooperating more than ever before.