Mexico shining star: Amazing Queretaro adds fame
Some say I have lived a sheltered life. For years and years, all I knew about Queretaro, Queretaro (pronounced keh-REH-tah-roh) was that it was a couple of hours northwest of Mexico City, had a photogenic aqueduct and was a likely place to purchase opals, which I didn't really need.
My history retention is vague but I seemed to recall it was a flashpoint for two or three wars and the end place for Emperor Maximilian, who overstayed his welcome.
In the past decade or so, Queretaro, Queretaro has surged into my consciousness as one of Mexico's most progressive cities. I no longer take it for granted. I am duly impressed.
Somebody voted it most livable city in Mexico because of economic growth, social stability and quality of life. That may or may not infringe on the reputation of San Miguel de Allende, best city in the world.
Queretaro is considered the second best place in the country to do business, after Monterrey. It has an immaculately preserved colonial center that UNESCO thinks is a World Heritage site. On the flip side, it has a new airport.
The Church of San Francisco is in the middle of downtown. On the facade is the image of Saint James, fighting the Moors. There is a modern touch. He is cutting off a head.
I like Queretaro for more peaceful reasons. It is relatively safe and is moving in a favorable direction.
Jose Calzada Rovirosa, governor with a presidential glow, seconds that notion and goes a full step more: "We are the most progressive state in my country."
The only serious setback Queretaro has suffered was the fault of an overzealous convention recruiter. The city was host to an international conference on goats. Oh my.
Queretaro, population 700,000 and change, is a holiday outing for the prosperous among Mexico City millions. It is 120 miles down highway 57D from San Luis Potosi.
It is a good place to look for the high-tech label "Made in Mexico."
I don't know how many foreign companies have operations in the city. Maybe you have heard of Bose music, Kellogg's, Samsung electronics, Daewoo, Colgate-Palmolive, Michelin, Siemens, New Holland, Sylvania, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Pilgrim's Pride, Dana and Dow Chemical.
General Electric, Textron and Honeywell are very serious about Mexican capabilities and labor costs.
The aerospace industry has made an enormous difference. Hawker Beechcraft, Gulfstream Aerospace, France's Safran Group, Fokker from the Netherlands and Spain's Aernnova are there.
The really big boy is Canada's Bombardier Aerospace, No. 3 civilian aircraft manufacturer in the world behind Boeing and Airbus. A company spokesman says "30 percent of the total Learjet 85 will be put together in Queretaro."
Don't believe all the bad stuff you have heard about NAFTA. Queretaro has achieved extraordinary economic growth. It is the poster place for the burgeoning Mexican middle class.
If you have added your choice of spices and digested all that, here's the dessert: the first American university is coming to town.
A private business foundation, The Association for the Advancement of Mexican Education, has generated $50 million and acquired 2,200 acres out toward the airport for what sounds like a stunning development. Focal point will be a copy of Arkansas State University.
Residential, commercial and recreational components will be in semi-circles around the campus. This is a unique idea funded by pesos.
"We are literally building a university like Arkansas State University-Jonesboro," said Dr. Yvonne Unnold, project director and chair of world languages and cultures at the school.
"It will be on a smaller scale which means we won't offer all the majors, but we will be offering the same general education."
Dr. Unnold says the sister campus is meant to have the same format as Jonesboro, including sports and the identical dining experience. That could mean fewer tacos, more grits and maybe chicken and dumplings.
The surrounding development sounds big-time — a shopping center, research lab, even a golf course.
Most college students in Mexico commute. Students at Arkansas State-Queretaro will live on campus. Most college students in Mexico learn in Spanish. This school will teach in English. Arkansas State will provide or hire the faculty.
Edmundo Ortiz, chief operations officer of the ownership group, says "We are assembling a dream — one that will enhance higher education in Mexico and build the foundation for better understanding among the future leaders of two of the most important countries on the globe.
"Arkansas State has proven to be the perfect partner for this ambitious project."
Groundbreaking is scheduled for early February. This being Mexico, it could be a little later. The school projects 1000 students for 2015. It will be built for 5000.
Yes indeed, Gov. Calzada is in the middle of this unusual enterprise. He spoke at Arkansas State commencement in December.
"It is an honor for my state to host Arkansas State University. We must tear down the walls that inhibit the quality formation of the future leaders of the world."
The idea of bringing a piece of Jonesboro, Arkansas to Mexico is absolutely amazing.
And just think, for a few more pesos, Queretaro might have brought in Harvard or Yale.