Jaime Parada Ávila

Laying Foundations for a Knowledge-Based Economy

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 14:37

Nuevo Leon is one of the most developed regions in Mexico, producing 8% of the national GDP. As speculation surrounds Mexico for its potential to become a high technology manufacturer, the city of Monterrey has begun to lay the foundations of a new paradigm: a knowledge- based economy. Nuevo Leon stands as an outlier in the national context, in the sense that it does not compete with the traditional Mexican economic centers but with areas like Illinois, Texas, Brazil, and even Turkey. With the highest GDP per capita in the country at close to US$20,000, against the national average of US$10,000, it aims to increase its high added value products and services in different sectors in order to build on its head start. The strategy for creating a knowledge-based economy is a complex puzzle that needs to be completed step-by-step through government initiatives, entrepreneurship, and the participation of universities and skilled, talented people. R&D parks are connecting the dots in this process, creating a common place where strategic targets are pursued in unison. The state-of-the-art R&D Park PIIT (Research and Technological Innovation Park) was created in order to foster this ecosystem of innovation, according to its President, Jaime Parada Ávila. “The completion of the project took seven years, a lightning pace when compared to other international experiences where such parks can take up to 15 years to be completed,” he says. Through the collaboration of the triple helix of academia, government, and the business sector, 35 R&D centers were created in PIIT. Of these, 14 belong to the private sector and the rest belong to universities and the state government.

In terms of the automotive industry, PIIT benefits from the northern region of the country long having been a reliable producer of components, auto parts, and assembled products. This innovative and knowledge-driven ecosystem is an important magnet for automotive companies wishing to invest and expand their operations in Mexico. Katcon, a world leader in automotive exhausts, has decided to establish a tech center in PIIT where it will develop new products for the next generation of vehicles. Metalsa is also developing a research center in the park to create lighter and more resistant frames in tune with the latest environmental conditions, to be used for traditional cars  as well as hybrid and electric models. A knowledge-based economy not only increases and reinforces productivity in every economic sector, but also allows for the creation of synergies and technological applications across a wide range of industries. For example, Schneider Electric’s PIIT tech center is developing an integrated energy solution that incorporates photovoltaic, electromagnetic, and software technologies through its team of 450 engineers. “To create synergies across industries and foster collaboration between companies, PIIT allows companies to collaborate with universities, get their hands on expensive technological equipment, have access to incubators, and use graduate students for their projects,” says Parada Ávila.

He also discovered that, in order to complete the puzzle of a knowledge-based economy and consolidate Monterrey and PIIT as frontrunners, the creation of high- tech businesses is essential. Therefore, the government of Nuevo Leon launched the Nuevo Leon Fund for Innovation (FONLIN) program, which provides grants of up to US$200,000 per case. This fund facilitated the creation of 48 new businesses in two years in different areas ranging from medical, IT, nanomaterials, and biotechnology to automotive. “This has become a huge accomplishment. In the past, there were no more than ten R&D centers in Monterrey but the region has now accumulated over 100.”

The exponential growth of high-tech businesses is closely followed by the increased availability of professionals. Nuevo Leon now has over 150,000 students enrolled in higher education programs and 15,000 in graduate studies. For Parada Ávila, there is an enormous obligation to provide these students with good employment opportunities or they will migrate to other areas. Spurred by this growing pool of human capital and after the success of the PIIT project, Parada Ávila hopes the park will expand to incorporate another 20-30 additional R&D centers with the ultimate goal of creating a community of 5,000-6,000 scientists and technicians. His final vision is for PIIT to have around 50-60 R&D centers all operating together to form an important hub of knowledge and industrial activity.