Originally published May 22, 2015
By Lisa Y. Garibay
UTEP News Service
“The El Paso region and UTEP are at the center of the future of North America.”
A bold statement, but one that is being backed up by the work conducted at the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness, headquartered on The University of Texas at El Paso campus.
Adding to his statement above, Hunt Institute Executive Director Patrick Schaefer said, “As the U.S. and Mexico grow ever closer and become more and more integrated culturally, linguistically, financially, industrially and via familial relations, that’s where UTEP is going to be the reference point for North American and U.S.-Mexico issues.”
The institute’s work is important within the University, too, especially with respect to its students. Four graduate and two undergraduate assistants round out the office staff.
“The students here have unquestionably been our greatest asset,” Schaefer said. “They are the front line, the ones who are down in the trenches with their sleeves rolled up finding the data, speaking to the institutions and speaking to the stakeholders in the assembly of databases that provide the basis for subsequent analysis.”
Four graduate student researchers contributed greatly to the institute’s most recent report, “Paso Del Norte Economic Indicator Review, Spring 2015,” which presents data confirming the importance of the region as one of the most critical demographic, industrial and trade centers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“A lot of this information is not available, so you have to dig to get it,” said economics master’s student Cora Martinez. “How to integrate three regions with different laws and infrastructure but with the same natural resources is one of the most difficult parts. But it is important to understand the politics behind that.”
José A. Moreno had always been fascinated with the socio-economic factors that affected his community, but also wanted the opportunity to apply what he had already learned while pursuing his undergraduate degree in economics.
“I definitely feel a lot more competitive in the labor market here in El Paso, as well as in other cities, after working at the Hunt Institute and completing the Master of Science in economics program here at UTEP,” said Moreno, who felt that it was a privilege to work alongside his colleagues on the institute’s first-ever indicator review.
Key to the institute’s mission of fostering the economic and social well-being of the communities in the Paso del Norte region – including West Texas, Southern New Mexico and Northern Chihuahua – is cultivating UTEP students into becoming strong researchers and committed community members.
This is achieved by immersing students in information on everything from trade flows to reforms in international finance, from accessing databases in Mexico to harmonizing that data between its home country and the U.S. Students also routinely make presentations to the team or sign up for training from UTEP research librarians in order to take full advantage of the library’s assets.
“All of this has value for UTEP and its students, but it also has value for our communities,” Schaefer said. “The more we produce these kinds of scholars and businesspeople who are familiar and knowledgeable and skilled in a transboundary context, the more it lifts up our community and raises awareness of the treasures that we have.”
Undergraduate research assistants also are active in the Hunt Institute office, working on supply-chain analyses and mappings. Rachel Ortega was employed at the institute this semester, focusing on a thorough industrial mapping of the aerospace and avionics industries regionally.
“Everyone at the Hunt Institute does a great job at continuously challenging you,” Ortega said “It isn’t at all like my previous research position, because there is hands-on experience and you’re encouraged to take the lead.”
Sophomore marketing major Andres Mejorado started his work at the institute this semester and hopes to continue for much longer. He’s taking the lead on a project to bring together a professional and academic workshop on accounting practices between the U.S. and Mexico because they’re divergent.
“That’s the kind of thing that the students here are having the space and resources to bring about,” Schaefer said.
“Working at the Hunt Institute has been the best opportunity that could have been given to me as a student,” said Mejorado, a marketing major. “Every day I learn something new that I can use later on in my career.”
On campus, the institute collaborates closely with the Center for Environmental Resource Management, the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies, and with a group of UTEP engineering, economics, sociology and environmental science faculty on the Paso Del Norte Interdisciplinary Research Platform, compiling data that will make UTEP the reference point on cross-border rail transportation infrastructure as regional trade increases.
All of this has occurred over the institute’s first year – it opened its doors April 29, 2014. Schaefer has taught two UTEP courses on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), where undergraduates learned about the foreign direct investment that provided the industrial explosion in Juárez over the last two decades.
Next up for the Hunt Institute will be two more reports, one each on the natural resources economics of energy and water. A partnership with the Mexico Institute at Washington, D.C.’s Wilson Center will produce a supply chain map of this region by the end of the summer, making data spanning New Mexico, Chihuahua and West Texas accessible online for any interested party, whether they are in business, education or politics. A survey of El Paso businesses to increase their competitiveness in federal contracts is being produced in collaboration with U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s office.
O’Rourke spoke to the importance of the work being done by the institute.
“With $90 billion in annual cross-border trade in El Paso and Juárez and one in four jobs in our region connected to that trade, it’s imperative that we have economic research that helps our region capitalize on the valuable opportunities at the border,” he said.
Graduate research assistant Macie Z. Subia is gearing up for her career after she completes her master’s degree in economics. She credits the Hunt Institute with making her even more employable, thanks to hands-on experience.
“I am proud to be able to understand this dynamic region with the data we collect,” she said. “Many people are not aware of how the Paso del Norte region carries similarities, yet each part continues to have separate characteristics.”
Ortega believes working at the institute may have opened up a whole new world of possibility for her future, from her immediate graduate school plans on through employment afterwards.
“It has really opened my eyes to the value of the region and the needs it has,” she said. “I have a greater understanding of the region, work ethic and my personal ambitions. It has changed my perspective and challenged my way of thinking.”
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