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By Bob Phillips May 14, 2017

Amid all the furor about the border, migration and national security, one fact remains constant, especially for Green Valley – the one thing that Mexico will never be is far away. With Mexico literally next door, would it not seem timely for Green Valley to examine its future through a cross-cultural, bi-national lens?

Some facts:

• Mexican shoppers spend $7 million to $8 million a day in Arizona, and outside of the White Elephant, very little of that is spent in Green Valley.

• There are 11 universities, 100 major manufacturing plants and over 400,000 inhabitants in Nogales, Mexico.

While Tucson, Phoenix, Nogales and other U.S. towns and cities market aggressively in Mexico and work to build civic and commercial connections with colleagues across the border, Green Valley is sorely lacking in such connections. The exception to this is the growing number of private citizens and nonprofit agencies, many times spearheaded by Green Valley churches, who have made contacts with Mexico, often through the unique cross-border tour program run for the last six or seven years by the Tubac-based Border Community Alliance and its Mexican partner, FESAC.

In the article I wrote in March on change coming to Green Valley, I suggested that if Green Valley was to attract new residents and progress it would have to adapt to the changes and lifestyles personified by the next cohort of retirees, the Baby Boomers – children of the 60s and 70s, America’s historically most disruptive generation. I suggested that nonprofits, those necessarily nimble organizations born out of innovation and schooled on surviving on scarce resources, could be the agents of change needed to build a sustainable future for Green Valley. The responses I received from the article were mostly a pushback against changes in Green Valley as it is now. To be expected and not where the conversation should end.

So, let me tie together the two parts of this discourse by suggesting that the future of Green Valley, at least part of it and perhaps the critical part, will depend on whether Green Valley and not just its social activist elements, embraces and exploits its proximity to Mexico. Baby Boomers, looking to stay socially engaged and intellectually stimulated, will be much more attracted to an active adult community that is substantially engaged with the exciting and rapidly growing country 45 minutes away rather than one that is not particularly diverse and lacks meaningful connections with its dynamic neighbor to the south.

Given the fact that the current educational offerings in Green Valley, with a few notable exceptions, are pretty much devoid of any reference to Mexico and could well be found in any Midwestern or Florida retirement haven, it seems that the one truly unique asset of Green Valley, its geography, lies largely fallow and underutilized. The beginnings of change in that orientation and of the creation of a unique and mutually advantageous relationship between Green Valley and its cross-border neighbor can be seen in the many Green Valley participants in cross-border tours and volunteers to Mexican migrant care centers and social service sites. In this time of toxic politics where our interdependent economic and social relationship with Mexico is imperiled by a flood of fake news and potentially perilous policies, the simple act of reaching out across the border as neighbors can provide a nonpartisan model of collaborative community building. Can Green Valley be the catalyst for that change? Does it want to be?

Nogales, Sonora, has a young and entrepreneurial population dealing with challenging social and economic development issues while Green Valley is a rich resource of mature life and professional experience and an irrepressible volunteer culture. Is there not a match here?

Take one of those cross-border tours with Border Community Alliance and/or connect with one of the local nonprofits or church groups already deeply engaged with counterparts in Mexico. Green Valley does not and cannot exist in isolation. When so much of its past has fixated on looking north, is it not now time to turn south? For more info on the Nonprofit Learning Institute of the Greater Green Valley Community Foundation and its training and service programs or to make a comment, contact: NPLI Director Bob Phillips via email.