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Carlos Slim Helu: Arizona-Mexico relations yet to reach full potential

Self-made business tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, one of the world’s top three richest men, said Arizona and Mexico have yet to reach their relationship’s fullest potential. But it’s getting better.

One of the reasons he’s optimistic is Gov. Doug Ducey’s pro-business attitude.

Slim told a crowd of business leaders they should support Ducey as he pushes for positive business relations with Mexico ­- a connection he called vital for international commerce.

On Wednesday, Slim was the keynote speaker at a Phoenix Business Journal event that focused on Mexico and its relationship with Arizona, business and international commerce.

Slim said some key problems that hinder economic growth include a distinct gap in income distribution, poor education and weak employment training.

While Slim points out that new technologies have created better opportunities for a growing middle class, it’s also replaced jobs.

However, it is a “new civilization” and modern technologies that have earned Slim his fortune.

Slim is a giant in telecommunications, but he also spent time in various fields, including education, industrial and commercial.

While completing his studies in civil engineering at National Autonomous University of Mexico, he simultaneously taught algebra and linear programming as a professor.

In the 1980s, he started businesses in residential real estate, construction and commercial fields.

Through the years, Slim invested in hundreds of companies.

As of today, Slim’s net worth is $74.6 billion.

While he’s still involved in business, acts as chairman of multiple boards and owns stock in more than 200 companies, Slim gives back to the community.

Known for his philanthropic work, Slim received the Starlite Humanitarian Award in 2014.

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James Garcia, spokesman for Arizona-Mexico Commission, said Slim is a conduit to Latin America, and he acts as a vital connection to a diverse economy that Arizona needs to recover from the Great Recession.

The relationship between Arizona and Mexico has faltered in the past over immigration issues, he said.

Rebuilding that relationship is important to the codependent economies, Garcia said.

Ducey, who introduced Slim at the event, agreed.

“We want to send a strong and positive message that says, ‘We’re open for business,’ ” Ducey said.

The audience exploded into applause.

Arizona exported more than $8 billion worth of goods to Mexico in 2014 – that’s about 40 percent of the state’s total annual merchandise exports, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last year’s exports were $1 billion more than what the state exported in 2013.

While more money is being transferred between Arizona and Mexico, Slim reminded the audience of the social and economic shifts from past to present.

Slim said Mexico’s movement to industrial from an agricultural-based economy has been a painful transition.

Fifty years ago, Mexico was deeply rooted in the agricultural industry, where workers produced a lot and consumed little. The transition into an industrial society provided more opportunities for education, research, productivity and freedom, he said.

However, Slim said sophisticated machinery and technology also has brought on new problems, like less employment.

His solutions:

• Focus on better training, health care and education.

• Create more service-based jobs, including those entertainment and tourism.

• Work fewer days a week, for longer hours.

• Retire at older ages.

• Establish better distribution of income per capital to develop a growing middle class.

• Apply new technologies and applications into daily life.

• Although Slim has amassed a fortune, his first priority isn’t money.

The billionaire said his biggest accomplishment has been family.