Work In The States, Build A Life In Mexico
Friday, July 27, 2007
Once a month 28-year-old Ignacio Moreno (not his real surname) walks to a small storefront on Chicago’s West 26th Street and plunks down $380. It’s not the rent for his two-bedroom apartment, where he lives with his wife and two kids, but an installment payment on his dream home back in Mexico. A bakery employee who works the night shift since the family came to the U.S. illegally in late 2003, Moreno is paying for $10,000 worth of cement, gravel, and bricks for the four-bedroom house he’s building on the outskirts of the Mexican capital.
Moreno isn’t paying a bank. He’s giving his hard-earned money to the Mexican cement giant Cemex (CX ) through its Construmex program. The idea is to target migrants living in the U.S., who sent an estimated $16 billion in remittances last year — some $3 billion of which was intended for construction, according to a Construmex market survey. Money transfers can be expensive, and family members back home frequently spend the money on other things. And many immigrants don’t know how much cement to buy or how to build a roof, so their hard-earned savings often are wasted. That’s where Construmex comes in: Its architects help clients design home plans and calculate how much material to deliver and at what time intervals. The company also finances the purchase of the construction materials.
In two years, Monterrey-based Construmex has helped 4,500 migrants living in the U.S. build homes or small businesses in Mexico. This year it expects $3.8 million in revenue, a mere hint of the potential. “We’re certain that there’s a very large, unsatisfied demand out there,” says Hector Ureta, Cemex’ director for low-income programs. The company’s studies show that 58% of Mexican migrants to the U.S. intend to build in their home towns.
Just as some U.S. companies are tapping the undocumented market, some Mexican companies see opportunity in following customers who head north of the border. After all, many migrants straddle both worlds — working in the U.S. but maintaining homes in Mexico. So far most cross-border efforts are housing-related campaigns conducted through U.S. branch offices. Grupo Famsa, a Monterrey-based retailer of home appliances, has nine stores in California and three in Texas, where migrants can buy a product and have it delivered to relatives in Mexico.
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