Guadalajara is a classic example of an urban economy evolving from a market town into a production center, and then transforming into a hub for high value industries. The city became established in the 18th century as the agricultural center for the region of Jalisco, but the real engine of economic growth was manufacturing in the twentieth century. Today, the city has a diversified economy, based mainly on commerce and services, and it is transforming into a hub for tech and creative businesses.
The government has a strategy to develop “a high capacity ecosystem to generate high value public innovation and high impact companies”. It is doing this by fostering an environment of openness and collaboration in the city, and facilitating communities such as Hacker Garage and Social Valley . This strategy is accompanied by recognition of the value of diversity: in 2017 Aristóteles Sandoval, the governor of Jalisco, joined the Guadalajara Pride march, to make clear the city’s support for LGBT+ inclusion:
“I’m here today to show how important it is for us to create a modern, tolerant, inclusive and respectful society…. Ours is a diverse society, so we must respect and promote a culture of tolerance and recognize everyone’s rights”.
LGBT+ people enjoy increasing recognition and acceptance in Guadalajara, which is known as the “gay capital of Mexico”. Today, there are more than 50 establishments are accredited for “gay tourism” – more than anywhere else in Mexico. The legal status of LGBT+ people is improving, too: there is no federal law on marriage equality in Mexico, but in 2013 the state of Jalisco passed a law recognizing same-sex marriage. LGBT+ people considering moving to Guadalajara can be reassured that Mexico does have legal protections, provided by a 2011 amendment to the constitution.
Progress on creating an inclusive society goes hand-in-hand with the transition to a high-value economy. Already, Jalisco exports $21bn in tech products and services per year and hosts facilities for international tech companies including Cisco, HP, IBM, Gameloft, Intel, Oracle, and Toshiba. Guadalajara is putting itself on the map for tech: in 2015 it hosted the first “Smart Cities” conference, a global initiative of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; and in 2017, the city hosted the “Digital Economy Show”, focusing on the fourth industrial revolution.
Guadalajara has also become a hub for Mexico’s creative sector: the country has become one of the world’s top-20 exporters of creative industry products and services. A major project is underway to build a cluster of creative professionals and companies, called the Creative Digital City (Ciudad Creativa Digital, CCD). It is set to generate $15B in investment, 550 new “audiovisual, digital and interactive production” businesses, and employing around 30,000 people.
This economic activity is fueled by a young, well educated population: 25% of the people who live there are under 25, and Jalisco has 12 universities, including the prestigious Tecnológico de Monterrey, creating an IT funnel of 85,000 graduates a year. UN Habitat expects the city’s population to increase from around 3 million in 1990 to around 5 million in 2025; unlike cities such as Singapore, Guadalajara doesn’t seem to have a problem holding on to its graduates.
Sandoval, Jalisco’s governor, is keen to position Guadalajara as an open, welcoming city. When U.S. President Donald Trump signed executive orders to limit H-1B visas, making it harder for U.S. tech companies to bring in high skilled workers from overseas, Sandoval declared Guadalajara a “sanctuary for high-skilled workers”.
Tech Mahindra, one of India’s largest IT companies, immediately announced it would double its operations in Mexico if the US makes it more difficult for Indians to get skilled visas. Sandoval penned an open letter to Silicon Valley companies, promoting Guadalajara’s inclusiveness: “Jalisco’s population boasts a range of cultures, religions, ethnicities, and spoken languages. [The city] offers an enviable quality of life, in a community that is made even more rich thanks to the diversity of our people.”