Monterrey doesn’t know the meaning of the word siesta. Even traffic moves steadily forward in this atypical city in northern Mexico. Plus, it’s virtually crime-free. An excellent infrastructure and readily available services combine to make Monterrey a preferred location for doing business in Mexico. Many of the country’s most important corporations have headquarters here. Fortune magazine recently voted Monterrey the best city for doing business in Latin America — an imprimatur of prestige that has American business executives taking notice.
Its proximity to the U.S. border — Texas is less then two hours away — is turning Monterrey more and more into a Mexican city dressed in American clothing. The city’s high quality of life is reflected in its abundance of millionaires — more per capita than anywhere else in Mexico — who live in Beverly Hills–style suburbs.
Nestled in a valley, surrounded by the rocky peaks of the Sierra Madre mountain range, Monterrey is Mexico’s third-largest city (about 3.5 million inhabitants) and the capital of Nuevo Leone, a Mexican state that is home to 4 percent of the country’s population but responsible for 8.1 percent of its gross domestic product.
The only Mexican city to experience notable economic growth in the last 10 years, Monterrey has new skyscrapers and other commercial buildings that stand as monuments to its economic progress. The city’s “old money” community is faithful to its roots and continually reinvests, fueling Monterrey’s unrivaled growth rate. Trappings of American influence include upscale shopping malls and excellent educational institutions. The latter contribute to a skilled work force that high-tech industries such as electronics, communications, auto parts and biotechnology find appealing. In the last five years alone, 26 electronics companies have invested a total of $339 million in the metropolitan area, among them such industrial leaders as Celestica, sci and Solectron.
Auto-parts manufacturing is booming: Five companies are expected to set up plants this year at a cost of $150 million, and Milwaukee-based Tower Automotive recently announced it would move some of its light-truck business to its Monterrey-based Metalsa branch. These companies join heavyweights Mercedes-Benz and Proeza, adding about 600 new jobs to the region. Copper producer Phelps Dodge is moving its production of magnet wire from El Paso to Monterrey. Internet and e-commerce businesses are also attracted to the accommodating business climate here.
Other companies eyeing Monterrey range from Pfizer to Toys “R” Us. The new business synergy adds weight to long-standing industries making glass, corn flour, synthetic fibers, cement, beer, ceramic products, home appliances and steel. The area also is an important agriculture center, leading Mexico in the production of citrus fruits and grain-fed cattle.
All this business diversity has made Monterrey a model for Mexican economic growth, which is expected to rise by 3.1 percent this year, reflecting optimism that the U.S. economic recovery is finally influencing its neighbor to the south. First quarter growth was 3.7 percent, the strongest since 2000. Gross domestic product rose only 1.3 percent last year. It is widely agreed that Mexico could attract more business and direct foreign investment with reforms such as better energy policies, tax reconfiguration and legal and judicial system upgrades. Mexico is battling China for foreign business, trying to compete with the Asian giant’s seemingly endless stream of low-wage workers. As they look toward national elections later this year, Mexicans remain cautiously optimistic that this year’s vote will not precipitate an economic crisis, as in years past.
Boasting more than 8,400 hotel rooms, Monterrey offers a wide variety of accommodations, many of which cater to the business traveler. Visitors can choose to stay in the city center or in the upscale suburb of San Pedro Garza G arcia, considered one of the most affluent communities in Latin America. Garza Garcia caters primarily to business travelers, so occupancy runs high during the week; discounts kick in on the weekend.
Presidente InterContinental Monterrey
Located in Garza Garcia, the InterContinental is favored by business travelers. The 10-story building, fresh from a multimillion-dollar renovation, features 305 spacious, well-equipped guestrooms with dramatic views of the nearby mountains. Corporate rates start at $169 and top out at about $999 for the presidential suite where President Bush stayed during his recent visit. Opt for one of the 68 rooms on the club floor ($35 extra) where the premium is on gracious service and comfortable public areas; it feels more like a small hotel. The club floor is noted for its especially good breakfasts (try the Mexican specialty Chilaquiles). The hotel also has a swimming pool, an outdoor tennis court and a 24-hour business center.
Presidente InterContinental Monterrey
Av. Jose Vasconcelos 300 Oriente
San Pedro Garza Garcia
tel 8368 6000, fax 8368 6040
Quinta Real Monterrey
This is the city’s most upscale hotel. Located in Garza Garcia, it exudes the charm of old Mexico with its appealing colonial architecture and elegant public rooms. Rates at this all-suite hotel begin at $195.
Quinta Real Monterrey
Diego Rivera 500, Val Oriente
tel 8368 1000, fax 8368 1070
Courtyard Monterrey Aeropuerto
If you need to stay at the airport, the Hotel Courtyard by Marriott with 205 guestrooms is only two minutes away. Located in the Apodaca industrial area, it has a gym, a pool, a business center and meeting rooms.
Courtyard Monterrey Aeropuerto
Carr. Miguel Aleman
tel 8625 5064, fax 8625 5071
Bustling Monterrey offers a wide variety of dining choices, including most types of ethnic fare, but it would be a mistake to miss the distinctive local cuisine. Cabrito (baby goat), for instance, is a delicious specialty cooked slowly over mesquite wood. Arrachera, a classic marinated steak also cooked over mesquite wood, is another tempting and flavorful choice.
Gran San Carlos
The Gran San Carlos is a 5-year-old restaurant known for its cabrito. Main courses start at $5; cabrito is about $12.
Gran San Carlos
Av. Morones Prieto 2807
tel 8344 4114
An offshoot of a popular Mexico City restaurant, La Valentina epitomizes the new breed of stylish Mexican restaurant. Don’t expect the familiar “Mexican” dishes served north of the border. Appetizers include salbutes itzama, a crisp shell filled with marinated chicken. Be sure to sample the wonderful mole dishes. Entrees begin at $11.
Av. Lazaro Cardenas 2660 B Valle Oriente
tel 8363 2610
This sophisticated restaurant (whose name means “the ladybug”) offers exciting regional specialties as well as dishes from other parts of the country. The zesty ragout of dried beef (a local dish) is a must, as is the spicy crab soup and delicious pan-roasted duck breast with mango and chili sauce. More adventurous diners may want to sample such pre-Hispanic offerings as maguey worms with guacamole and crispy grasshoppers. Main courses start at $10. Closed Sunday.
Av. Morones Prieto 2525
tel 8345 3357
Monterrey may be far from the coast, but excellent fresh seafood is readily available. Los Arcos, a colorful Acapulco-influenced restaurant with branches all over Mexico, is known for its seafood specialties. Try the seafood soup or one of the many shrimp dishes enhanced with special green or garlic sauces. Entrees from $8.
Av. Morones Prieto 2414
tel 8347 2301
Monterrey has several sleek upscale malls, but visitors will undoubtedly be more interested in the Mexican handicrafts sold at many small shops such as Galeria el Zaguan in Barrio Antiguo (Monterrey’s old town). Padre Jardon 915 (tel 8345 2427) offers a good selection of contemporary art, crafts and antiques. Shoppers will find finely crafted silver jewelry at the airport. A wide variety of sipping tequilas (a great gift) is available at La Casa del Agave (Padare Mier 817 in Barrio Antiguo), where the selection and prices beat the airport — plus, you can sample before choosing at the adjacent cantina.
When it comes to traditional tourist attractions, Monterrey is not at the top of the heap. That said, the Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring art from Mexico and throughout Latin America, is a good take. The mountains and canyons that surround the city offer plenty in the way of outdoor recreation: Chipinque National Park is only minutes away and ideal for hiking and mountain biking. Other half-day side trips include the somewhat daunting caves at Grutas de Garcia and the breathtaking waterfalls at Cola de Caballo.
Baseball fans take note: Major league baseball games may soon be a part of the entertainment landscape as Monterrey is competing to become the new home of the Montreal Expos.
Although Monterrey has a magnificent golf course, it is strictly members-only, so unless you have a friend or business associate who’s a member, you might as well forget about it. An option to consider: Catch a flight to Los Cabos. Located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, it’s home to some of the continent’s most beautiful golf courses.
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