Research refined: Ensuring the state becomes a place of innovation requires an approach that joins academia, industry and government

In an effort to boost the state’s research and development (R&D) capabilities, in March 2019 Hidalgo announced that $25m of seed funding would be put towards developing Mexico’s first synchrotron, a type of cyclical particle accelerator. The federal government is expected to provide a further $500m for the project, which Alonso Huerta, director of the Council of Science, Technology and Innovation of Hidalgo, says will bring great benefits to the state. “This is a flagship project that can go a long way to positively position Hidalgo,” he told OBG. “Places that host synchrotrons are reference points in the scientific world and can become talent hubs. It also represents an important economic investment in the state, and a major step in Hidalgo’s path to becoming a modern and innovative place.”

Focus on Innovation 

Omar Fayad Meneses, the governor of Hidalgo, echoes this sentiment and believes that investment in science and technology can “change Hidalgo and Mexico’s identity”. Indeed, the state government has made it clear that R&D is a priority, and the synchrotron is just one of several initiatives. A 20-minute drive from the centre of Pachuca, the Hidalgo City of Knowledge and Culture – a 175-ha facility where academic institutions, research centres and technology companies are installing themselves – is arguably the most visible result of the state working to provide a nurturing place for R&D activity. The city is being considered as a site for the synchrotron.

Nevertheless, Hidalgo is still grappling with the challenge of how to turn itself into an R&D destination for private sector companies, and thus ensure that the research happening in the state contributes to improved productivity and more sustainable economic growth. The OECD is confident that greater investment in innovation will help boost productivity, yet the organisation believes that Hidalgo currently lacks a “holistic innovation policy”, which is reducing its capacity to link academia, government and the private sector. In the years leading up to the incumbent administration, this took its toll on Hidalgo’s innovation performance. The number of patents per 1m inhabitants fell from 0.8 in 2002 to 0.5 in 2015, while the average across much of the rest of the country increased.

Since then, some companies that have arrived in Hidalgo as part of a wave of private investment have installed research facilities in the state. Food conglomerate Grupo Lala, for example, opened a MXN1bn ($51.7m) deli meats factory in Tizayuca in November 2017 that includes a centre for technology and innovation. Furthermore, the newest brewery of beer company Grupo Modelo – which is located in Apan and opened in March 2019 after an investment of MXN14.6bn ($755m) – includes a quality control laboratory where chemical tests are conducted. Looking ahead, potential investors in Hidalgo have room to innovate in industries such as electric vehicles and renewable energy, which are still in their relative infancy within Mexico.

Working Together 

Seeing as the number of similar moves from private firms are less than hoped, industry bodies are supportive of Fayad’s mission to follow OECD recommendations and create an alliance between the government, industry, academia and society as part of efforts to achieve scientific and technological independence for Mexico. A step in this direction came in February 2019 when the Hidalgo branch of the Mexican Chamber of Construction opened a research and innovation centre at the Hidalgo City of Knowledge and Culture that can accommodate 500 students and researchers and is designed to strengthen the link between industry and academia.

Still, Huerta emphasises that bringing together all the stakeholders that are needed to cultivate a strong innovation environment will not be a quick process. “We have a strong group of state initiatives to promote R&D, and there are already some private companies here generating added value,” Huerta told OBG. “Progress will be gradual, but we are really working to make the knowledge economy a driver of state development.”