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The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Robots in San Luis Potosí

Caja Real in San Luis Potosi
Credit: Sandokanmx | Deviantart

Yes, you read correctly. The hills are alive with the sound of robots in San Luis Potosí, often sold by Marcus Oliveira, a Brazilian from São Paulo who is part of a growing Brazilian expat community in the city that is called SLP by the locals.

Marcus Oliveira
Marcus Oliveira

Oliveira, 36, moved to San Luis Potosí with his wife Ingrid and son Davi in 2016 to take a new job with his company ABB, a Swedish company that manufactures products and systems for power transmission as well as for process and industrial automation, especially robotics for manufacturing.

Oliveira was born and raised in Salvador, Brazil, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia. Always interested in mechanical things, he moved to Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, when he was 18 to work for ABB and pursue a university degree in the new field of mechatronics, which is a multidisciplinary field of science that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer engineering, telecommunications engineering, systems engineering and control engineering.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechatronics from the Universidade Bandeirante de São Paulo, a large private university in São Paulo in 2009. After graduation Oliveira continued his work with ABB working directly with robots, doing installation and programming robots while working on a master’s degree in business development at the same university.

Oliveira had been working for ABB for nearly 13 years when he received his master’s degree in 2012 and began developing new business for the robotic products and systems he had worked with for over a decade.

“I was looking for something different a few years ago,” Oliveira said, “but I didn’t want to leave the company. I spoke with my boss in the U.K. and told him I had found an opportunity in China. He told me, ‘No, Marcus, you won’t leave me, I need you to keep working for me. Please give me several weeks to try to figure out something better for you.’”

That something better was a business line manager job for ABB’s welding and cutting division in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, a city of over 1 million people located in the state of San Luis Potosí in north-central Mexico.

The state of San Luis Potosí borders eight other Mexican states, more than any other state in the country. Its capital city of San Luis Potosí is one of the main industrial centers in central Mexico with a large manufacturing industry. In fact, many foreign companies have invested in the city in the last decade because of its strategic location. The city sits in the center of an economic triangle between Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.

“When we moved here in 2016,” Oliveira said, “my first impression was that the airport was really small. We came from a very large city, over 20 times larger than San Luis Potosí.”

His company paid for a week’s orientation visit before they made their final move, time enough to meet a few people from the local Brazilian expat community who were also attracted to San Luis Potosí by its manufacturing economic engine.

“When we arrived we met a Mexican woman who was married to a Brazilian guy,” he said. “She introduced us to a lot of people and answered a lot of our questions. It was a very big help in getting us settled.”

Ingrid, Davi and Marcus Oliveira
Marcus Oliveira and family

The family moved into a four-bedroom home just 20 minutes from the city center, about a half-hour drive from his job and very close to many other Brazilian expats. The first floor of the home has a kitchen, living room and half-bath; three master suite bedrooms with bathrooms occupy the second floor; and, there is an additional bedroom and bath on the third floor.

“We are renting our home but it’s paid for by the company,” he said. “We pay about US$1,225 each month, which is about what we paid each month for our house in São Paulo. The difference is we owned our home in Brazil.”

Oliveira travels a lot for his business development job, especially to Guanajuato, Monterrey, Puebla and Mexico City, which he visits every week. He is responsible mainly for developing business for his company’s robotic products for the automobile industry.

“What we do is mainly for cars,” he said. “Robotic arms for welding, cutting and painting. Over 90 percent of my business comes from companies like Ford, BMW and Nissan. I bring in people from different countries to work on my team. Brazilians, of course, but also guys from India and Slovakia.”

The Brazilian expat community in San Luis Potosí is not large but close. Oliveira estimates there are about 40. They often connect through a blog written in Portuguese by a Brazilian expat who provides information to her fellow expats and aspiring expats from her home country on what life is like living in Mexico.

As testimony to the growing Brazilian population, five Brazilian restaurants have sprung up in the city to meet the needs of expats as well as locals. Brazilian food also comes from the kitchens of the expat community.

“My wife is a very good cook and often prepares special Brazilian dishes that many Brazilian expats buy from her,” he said. “We have a group of about 20 who we spend time with.”

Oliveira said he and his wife encountered some culture shock when they first moved to Mexico, mainly the traditional behavior of the more conservative local people. This was very different from the cosmopolitan lifestyle they had been used to in mega-city São Paulo. And, although he did not speak Spanish before moving to Mexico, he is learning the language quickly. His knowledge of English has been helpful in the transition since that language is often used in business.

We asked Oliveira what he loves about living in Mexico, besides his job.

“We’ve found the Mexican people to be very welcoming and warm. They love to meet strangers and help them feel at home. We also think the country is very beautiful with lots of things to see and do. And we like the lower cost of living in Mexico. Overall, I would say it is about 40 percent cheaper to live here than in Brazil.”