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Published: Friday, 5/16/2003

Firms court Wal-Mart of Mexico


MEXICO CITY - Eight Ohio companies that visited Wal-Mart of Mexico yesterday hope the corporate giant's record year - $10.1 billion in sales in 2002 - means more business for them.

Wal-Mart, Mexico's largest private sector employer, is planning to invest $615 million and add 61 more Mexican stores this year, chief financial officer Rafael Matute said. The company owns several store chains in Mexico as well as Latin America's largest restaurant chain.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who met with the Ohio companies and Wal-Mart officials, said one company getting a contract with the retail chain would be a coup for the state.

“Just sitting down and hearing from Ohio producers is a step in the right direction,” he said. Participants yesterday included Diehl, Inc., of Defiance, which makes condensed milk and creamers, Cooper Tire and Rubber Company of Findlay, and SSOE, Inc., of Toledo, which designs corporate buildings.

A Wal-Mart store and a Sam's Club in Mexico look a lot like a Wal-Mart store and Sam's Club in Ohio, except for the bakery that makes fresh tortillas and pastries throughout the day. Wal-Mart executives thrust those pastries upon the governor and his staff on a tour yesterday.

“In every photo you will be eating,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Mercedes Aragones.

“That's what politicians do,” Governor Taft joked. “Politicians eat. They take pictures, and they sign things.”

The governor speaks limited Spanish, but throughout the trade mission to Mexico - specifically at a reception at the ambassador's residence for Ohio and Mexican companies - he had one Spanish phrase down pat: “Por favor, vengan to Ohio.” Please, come to Ohio.

Yesterday, the governor met with San Luis Rassini, an auto parts manufacturer that is developing a plant in Montpelier. Although Governor Taft has said the trip is focused 90 percent on exports from Ohio, he said he wants to try to bring companies from Mexico to the state as well.

The governor also met with Mexico's economy secretary and Edward Reading, vice president for retread with Cooper Tire of Findlay to try solve a problem the tire company is having exporting tires to Mexico.

By law, tires have to be certified before being sold in Mexico, similar to the process with tires coming to the United States. That certification has been done in U.S. labs. But recently, Mexico would not recognize certifications that were not done in Mexico for truck tires. That would be extended to passenger cars in July, effectively blocking Cooper Tires from exporting to Mexico and also costing an Ohio certification lab business.

Governor Taft said Mexico's economy under-secretary thought U.S. certifications were still good and called all parties involved to meet and work out an understanding. The governor has said he chose to come to Mexico in the middle of a state economic crisis to link Ohio business with high-level executives and government officials who would not normally be accessible to them.

Before leaving for Guadalajara last night, Governor Taft talked to Mexican police authorities about the possibility of Reliance Armor Systems of Cincinnati supplying the Mexico City police department with 25,000 bulletproof vests.

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