Building A Science Park South Of The Border Down Mexico Way

May 7, 2009
In his editorial, Electronic Design's Joe Desposito writes about Silicon Border, a semiconductor manufacturing project in Baja California, Mexico driven by DJ Hill.

I remember listening to a catchy tune when I was a youngster called “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way).” It told the tale of a cowboy who fell in love with a Mexican gal.

This song came to mind recently when I interviewed D.J. Hill, CEO of Silicon Border. D. J. is passionate about something in Mexico as well, but not a girl. He envisions manufacturing in North America, just south of the border, in a place called Mexicali in Baja California, Mexico.

Silicon Border is not a new venture. Some of you may already be familiar with it. The impetus for the interview was the completion of phase one of infrastructure development. The infrastructure buildout consists of a potable water plant and distribution, fiber-optic telephone and data cable, power substations, and waste treatment facilities.

LESSONS LEARNED IN ASIA D. J. spent a lot of time working in Asia during the late 1980s and early 1990s in countries like Malaysia and Singapore to expand National Semiconductor’s operations. He explained that oftentimes factories were built in a particular country due to financial incentives such as low taxes. Then, he had the tough task of trying to get enough water, power, or both to feed the factories. To solve these problems, D. J. and his team focused on building science parks.

“You’d be out in some remote area 10 miles from town and at the same time trying to get water and power and communications infrastructure,” he said. The science park concept was a way to bring these and other resources, such as education, into a remote area.

Silicon Border is called the first eco-friendly science park. In other words, the construction firm that is building the park, Grupo Maiz of Monterrey, Mexico, is taking advantage of the latest in building technology.

For example, its water treatment plant is designed to recycle up to 90% of the water used within the park. The other 10% will be dedicated to irrigation and other uses. This plant is considered state-of-the-art and will meet or exceed the exacting standards for water demanded by high-technology manufacturing.

In addition, Silicon Border is the first science park in the world to use LED lighting exclusively for 100% of its roadways and parking lots. D.J. also noted Silicon Border conforms to the strict Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system criteria ( LEED was developed and is administered by the U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to green building design.

LOCATIONS, LOCATION, LOCATION D. J. started out by looking for a location that would be an alternative to Asia in North America. He ended up along the border of Mexico in Mexicali, which is only a couple hours by air from the technology centers in Silicon Valley, Dallas, and Phoenix.

He felt that if Mexico could come up with incentives and infrastructure, essentially everything that was available in Asia, he was sure there was an opportunity to grab some piece of the manufacturing action. “If (Mexico) can create a competitive alternative to Asia,” he said, “we’ll get some percentage (of manufacturing) here.”

At the time, Mexico was doing assembly work only, like TVs and circuit boards. Silicon Border is the first effort for Mexico to have a science park focused on technologically based manufacturing, more than just assembly or putting things together.

Another plus for the Mexicali location is that Silicon Border can take advantage of brand-new gasfired power plants from Sempra Energy and Inter- Gen, which is a joint venture of Shell and Bechtel. These two power plants together generate 1.8 GW at a competitive cost for a 24/7 user—7 cents per kilowatt-hour. Water cost is also competitive at 40 cents per cubic meter.

As far as education goes, the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (UABC) has about 40,000 students. UABC intends to build an engineering campus in the science park.

Besides being environmentally friendly itself, Silicon Border is hoping to attract “green” companies to its home in Mexicali. One of its successes thus far has been Q-Cells, which has its headquarters in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Germany.

Last May, Silicon Border announced that this company, which is the world’s largest solar cell manufacturer, had selected Silicon Border for its next major expansion. Facility and plant investments are expected to reach up to $3.5 billion eventually.

With phase one of the Silicon Border project now complete, phase two will be getting underway shortly and is expected to be completed by 2011, so there is still a ways to go. But high-tech companies now have a strategic manufacturing alternative to Asia—down Mexico way.

For more information on Silicon Border, point your browser to To listen to the entire interview, see ED Online 21081.

About the Author

Joe Desposito | Editor-in-Chief

Joe is Editor-in-Chief of Electronic Design magazine.


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