In a nod to its geographical advantage, a Tucson aerospace company has expanded into the Mexican market with the opening of a manufacturing facility in Nogales, Sonora.

Airtronics Inc., founded in Tucson in 1975, has opened an 8,700-square-foot facility and on Wednesday hosted business and political leaders from both sides of the border at the new plant.

The company has 12 employees in Nogales and 75 in Tucson. Six of the Tucson positions have been added because of the expanded business in Mexico, said Airtronics president Brad Smith.

Because 95 percent of the company’s business was military-related, Smith said commercial client B/E Aerospace offered an opportunity to tap a new market as military spending is reduced.

Airtronics was encouraged by B/E to explore Mexico manufacturing to stay competitive, Smith said.

“Our initial reaction was ‘no’ and we sat on the sidelines for six to eight months,” he said. “Our commercial business went to nearly zero.”

The hesitation was because he knew little about entering the Mexican market and thought he could make up the business by tapping other commercial customers in Arizona or surrounding states, Smith said.

But everyone was looking for lower production costs.

With the help of shelter group Collectron International Management Inc., Airtronics opened the plant in Nogales. Shelters allow foreign-based companies to initiate operations without establishing a legal presence in another country.

“The Airtronics expansion is an example of technology and innovation not having physical boundaries,” said Alex Rodriguez, the Arizona Technology Council’s Southern Arizona director. “The net impact back home is economic growth — jobs and higher household incomes.”

At Wednesday’s event, guests — including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Nogales, Son., Mayor Ramon Guzman — watched machinists demonstrate the capabilities of the Airtronics factory.

“It’s extremely meaningful for the mayors to be here today,” Smith said. “It’s a symbol of the economic development mission they have for our region and vital for businesses to succeed.”

Both mayors have in recent years rallied other mayors in both states to come together and lobby for regional expansion to build an asset of companies that, in turn, will patronize local suppliers in both states.

“Today we are assisting in opening a business in Nogales that has 75 employees in Tucson, and the ability to expand into Nogales has allowed the company to maintain and expand its workforce in Tucson,” Rothschild said. “This is the kind of concrete activity I like to see. We are here to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

Guzman said the strong relationship with Rothschild and other Arizona mayors helps his office identify ways to assist companies struggling to remain competitive and, more important, he said, to stay close to home.

“I can’t help someone from Chihuahua or Tamaulipas,” he said. “But together we can resolve challenges for companies in our two states, supporting both economies, and everybody wins.”

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@azstarnet.com