Since 1968 when I first spent time in Mexico I have always thought that our two countries’ futures were inevitably linked.
After a recent visit, I believe this is even truer today. The global economics forces have generated very similar experiences, and as a result both countries face issues that are much the same. We are much more alike than we are different.
The case of a shuttered weaving mill in San Miguel de Allende illustrates this point. San Miguel is a beautiful pre-colonial city of about 60,000 people located in central Mexico. It is now a magnet for US and Canadian retirees who want to enjoy a cosmopolitan and yet affordable retirement.
But this idyllic little city has had its problems. In 1992 the city’s largest employer, Negociacion Fabril de la Aurora closed its doors. At the time the Aurora, which first opened in 1902, had employed over 300 people working three shifts. Throughout much of its history several generations of the Garay family, who had purchased the Aurora in 1932 during the in depths of the world-wide depression, worked diligently to make the throwing mill a financial success.
This unionized factory became more than a place of work. The Aurora sponsored sports teams, held musical concerts and participated actively in a variety of holidays and celebrations of which San Miguel has many. The annual “Alborada” holiday, which celebrates the patron Saint San Miguel, was instituted by the Aurora’s employees.
The production of the Aurora’s exquisite linen cloth was the result of its skilled workers and the entrepreneurial Garay family who purchased the latest throwing equipment from Germany and Italy. But the cycle of business growth and decline, created by the globalization, with which the U.S. is all too familiar, caught up with the Aurora. With uncertainty surrounding the pending approval of NAFTA, and the inability to compete with much less expensive labor costs in S.E. Asia, the Aurora closed its doors in 1992.
But, this story which mirrors so vividly hundreds of similar plant closures in the U.S. does not end there. The Garay family teamed with a few local artisans and transformed the 90-plus-year-old factory into a successful art and design center that opened in 2001. With its façade of 12 stone carved arches and impressive wrought iron work the Aurora now houses 72 stores, studios, galleries and design establishments. There is a waiting list of new businesses wishing to move into the Aroura.
Collectively, the various firms and shops that now occupy the Aurora employ almost as many who had worked there when it was a throwing mill. There were other economic gains as well. Former mill employees had gained mechanical, carpentry and other trade skills that allowed them to quickly obtain jobs in the tourism and construction industries of San Miguel.
It would have been very easy to give up, to blame cheap labor in other countries and to walk away from the Aurora. But the fortitude of the Garay family, buttressed by a few entrepreneurial artisans, turned what could have been another shuttered factory story into an aesthetic and economics success.
Yes, Mexico and the U.S. share more than a border. In many respects we share similar histories of business successes and failures. And fortunately, we also share an entrepreneurial spirit that pervades our respective populations. Simply look at the very complex supply systems of parts, labor, design and management that creates today’s automobiles and other sophisticated products. They are jointly manufactured in Mexico and the U.S. with parts from throughout the world. People on both sides of the border are winners.
Mexico and the U.S. have much more in common than we often realize. It isn’t popular now to suggest that countries with similar histories should work more closely together to solve issues that are larger than any of them. However, it is these commonalities of economic experiences, both good and bad, that provide the basis for collective problem solving. This can lead to better quality of life among the inhabitants of our respective countries.
Michael A. MacDowell the President Emeritus of Misericordia University and Managing Director of he Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation.