Maquiladoras in the 21st Century: Six Strategies for Success

John S. Hadjimarcou, University of Texas at El Paso
Lance E. Brouthers, University of Texas at El Paso
Jason P. McNicol, University of Texas at El Paso
Donald A. Michie, University of Texas at El Paso


The maquiladora industry was conceived as a win-win strategic economic platform for foreign companies and Mexican workers. The primary benefactor has been U.S. companies, which became more cost efficient by employing highly productive, lower-cost Mexican workers. However, the direct link between the U.S. economy and the corresponding employment of Mexican workers has resulted in unpredictable growth-retrenchment cycles. While the globalization of trade has grown dramatically, the maquiladoras have been slow to adapt to new trade realities, including the rise of China as a global manufacturing power. The more intense global competition and the recent financial crisis have challenged Mexico’s structural deficiencies and the maquiladora model with its focus on low-cost labor. Can the maquiladoras remain viable in this seemingly unpredictable economic environment? In this article, we provide a brief history of the maquiladoras, discuss the new external trade environment realities, and offer six strategies that can transform the maquiladoras into a sustainable economic model well into the future.