I spent the last couple of days in Queretaro, Mexico, the flashpoint for the Mexican rebellion against Spain in 1810 and, more recently, the site of a brand new Bombardier factory where composite structural components including fuselages and wings for the Learjet 85 are being manufactured.
The biggest surprises on my visit weren’t inside the factory, but rather all around this surprising city, which some are already calling, variously, the Wichita of Mexico, or the Montreal of Mexico, or the Toulouse of Mexico – references to the aerospace capabilities that have suddenly sprung up in Queretaro.
Bombardier is just one of several aerospace companies that have discovered this city in recent years, as Eurocopter, Safran, Meggitt, Spain’s Aeronnova and others have built facilities at a sprawling aerospace park next to a new international airport on the outskirts of the city.
Queretaro’s economy is exploding as the city has shifted from a focus on agriculture to high-tech production. A number of surveys have named Queretaro as a top place to live and work in Mexico, thanks to a high standard of living and one of Mexico’s lowest crime rates.
The highly regarded National Aeronautics University of Queretaro has also played a role in making the city an aerospace center. On a per capita basis, Mexico graduates three times as many engineers as the United States. Some 30 percent of all of Mexico’s university students, in fact, are currently enrolled in engineering and technology fields.
Technicians in Mexico, though, often have to be trained in-house in specialized processes even after receiving training elsewhere. For this reason, Bombardier reserves entire sections of its factory to teach workers how to build composite fuselages and wings, among other jobs. The results, the company says, have exceeded all expectations, with workers who are eager to learn, quick to catch on, and – I would guess, although Bombardier didn't say it – will happily accept less money than workers in Wichita, Montreal or Toulouse.
Located in the highlands of central Mexico about 120 miles north of Mexico City, Queretaro reminded me a little of Southern California, with lush green hills, agreeable weather and a laid-back vibe. On the way to my hotel in the city center, I passed by several chic restaurants with valet parking, a water park and a zoo, and saw plenty of luxury cars on the roads. From my hotel room I spotted a Starbucks, several boutique clothing shops, a Nike factory store, and even a Costco. At dinner in the city's historic district, a fellow jouralist along for the trip commented that the place "looks like Disney."
And it does. Only better. All of which is to say that, in aviation circles, it probably won’t be long before Queretaro is equally as well known as any other major world aerospace hub – and deservedly so.