* $3.8 billion - Value of Tennessee exports to Mexico in 2011, up 25 percent from the prior year
* 16 - Percent of manufacturing jobs in Tennessee due to exports overall
* 37 - Percent of U.S. content in Mexican exports shipped to the United States
* 16 - Percent of manufacturing jobs in Tennessee due to exports
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
American businesses looking for a growing economy to market their goods should look south of the border, a top U.S. export official said Friday.
Steve Alley, a Chattanooga native who serves as deputy senior commercial officer for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, told business leaders Friday that Mexico's economy is growing nearly twice as fast as the United States and buys more U.S. exports than Brazil, India, China and Russia combined.
"Mexico doesn't get the recognition that it should in terms of U.S. companies, but it is our second largest export market behind only Canada," Alley told nearly 100 business exporters during a seminar at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Chattanooga. "I have never seen a market that is more open and dynamic than Mexico."
Drug-spurred violence in Mexico may capture the headlines. But Alley said the murder rate in Mexico City is comparable with Los Angeles and Chicago and below U.S. cities like New Orleans and Detroit.
"You need to be careful where you are in some parts of Mexico, but that doesn't affect most business activity," Alley said.
Tom Griffin, director of exports and government sales for Miller Industries in Chattanooga, is a frequent visitor to Mexico where Miller Industries and its corporate predecessors have been selling tow trucks and equipment for more than a half century.
"The violence gets a lot of attention, but it doesn't affect business very much and Mexico continues to a steady and good market for us," Griffin said. "As the No. 1 towing equipment maker in the United States, we realize that most of our opportunities for growth are going to be in other countries so we're constantly focused on foreign markets and Mexico is certainly one of those."
With the U.S. economy growing at a sluggish pace of less than 2 percent so far this year, Mexico's 3.9 percent growth rate is attracting more interest. Last year, exports to Mexico from the United States jumped by 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Allen said financing and poverty remain challenges in Mexico and the government still maintains constitutionally protected control of its oil company Pemex.
"But despite the negative images and violence you often see on television, business in booming in Mexico," he said.