SAN JOSE CHIAPA, Mexico — Just beyond the gray cinderblock homes and thick brown dust of tiny San Jose Chiapa lies the promise of a shining new city where there once was only farmland, thanks to a $1.3 billion Audi plant built in the middle of nowhere.
As San Jose Chiapa recedes from view along the highway to Vera-cruz, the pavement becomes smoother at the exit for Ciudad Modelo, or Model City, a master-planned community being developed by the government next to the 1,000-acre Audi plant and accompanying supplier park.
While President Donald Trump continues to threaten the Mexican auto industry with a trade war, officials in the surrounding state of Puebla are making their biggest bet ever that auto production is here to stay, and that it can be leveraged to bring forth not only manufacturing jobs but also a more orderly transition to an urban, industrialized economy.
“What’s going on in the United States is something that interests us and worries us, but we know that these big corporations make their plans thinking over the next 25 years,” said Michel Chain Carrillo, Puebla’s secretary of economic development. “While there are implications in the short term, these don’t change the way in which the world functions.”
No one lives in Ciudad Modelo yet, except at the newly opened LQ Hotel. The city feels like a construction site during the week and a ghost town on weekends, with completed buildings scattered amid vast open fields.
The evolving skyline is a stark contrast to the humble farming and canning towns that surround it. There are colorful condos, a convention center, school towers offering kindergarten through college education, and the outlines of a supermarket and shopping mall.
Audi, which buses most of its workers to the Q5 plant from the state capital, about 40 miles away, isn’t funding the model city, government officials said.
The automaker has promised 4,000 direct jobs at the factory, which will make about 150,000 Q5 crossovers per year. Tens of thousands more jobs will come from auto suppliers and the service industry. There is also room on Audi’s footprint to grow.
But having wooed Audi to one of the poorest areas of Puebla, the government and its private partners are determined to create a surrounding urban infrastructure in the hope that the engineers, line workers, service firms and everything else needed for a vibrant, modern metropolis will follow.
A promotional video from the state government and Spanish engineering firm IDOM, contracted to design Phase 1 of Ciudad Modelo, said it will have about 5,000 homes — 1,500 subsidized by the government — to support 69,000 new jobs in the region by 2030. Health centers, parks, shopping centers, a transportation hub and university campuses are all part of this “city for the future.”
The city is expected to eventually grow to 100,000 residents or more, becoming perhaps the second-largest city in Puebla state — after the state capital, also called Puebla — and a model for Latin America.