Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Circle of Identities

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Last weekend, I went with a friend to visit her cousin and other members of her family who live in Uruapan, a very typical Mexican city in Michoacan, about 260kms east of where I live. Uruapan is usually known as the principal region in Mexico where avocados are grown and exported, though it achieved notoriety in September 2006, when armed men burst into a night club in the town, and rolled five severed heads on to the dance floor. This was the first major incident of beheadings which has subsequently become more common in the wars between the different drug cartels.

My friend’s cousin, Salvador, and his wife, Aline, run a delightful, small (only four guest rooms) bed and breakfast in the heart of the city, called the Casa Chikita.

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Salvador is an artist. Continue reading

The Best Bolillos in Mexico?

Mario, Marta and their mother

Mario, Marta and their mother

Although I have been living in Ciudad Guzmán for over three years, I only recently discovered a small bakery near the end of one of the main streets in the city that sells the most delicious white bread – perfectly textured (crisp on the outside and wonderfully soft inside), tasty rolls in different sizes that are known in Mexico as bolillos and teleras. In one way, it is not surprising that I had missed the bakery, as there are no obvious external signs that it is a bakery. It looks like a normal house in the street, and in many ways it is also a normal, typically Mexican house.

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For the last few weeks, I have got into the custom of going to the bakery nearly every day to buy fresh bread. There is something about the taste that is really special (and habit-forming). For those of you who may have seen the comedy series “The League of Gentlemen” on English TV, it reminded me of the butchers shop in the imaginary village of Royston Vasey , which was always busy because of the extraordinary and addictive flavour of its meat. As, over time, I got talking more to Señora Marta, who sells the bread, and her brother Mario, who makes the bread, I asked them if I could visit the bakery, take some photos, and talk more with them about why the bread is so good, and how they make it, in order to write this post. Continue reading

Another possible success story?

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Through my involvement with a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) business here, in which I am one of four partners, I have come to know an American, Jason, who has been helping us with internet marketing. He is one of three owners of an American software company, called Nearatec Technologies, that has started an office in Ciudad Guzmán in the recently developed software park. At a birthday party for Nacho, one of the other partners in the TEFL business, I was introduced to Luis, the manager of the software park.

In conversation with Luis and Jason, it became apparent that the two of them had made many links with the local Technological University, but had had no contact with the regional center of the University of Guadalajara, where I work as a ‘Profesor Honorífico’. (This means I give one class a term in the Masters in Business Administration Programme without being paid – though that is set to change – and in return, the University gives me an office, the use of their facilities, and the chance to hang out on the campus).

I then talked with people I knew at the University and we set up a meeting that was scheduled to be between myself, Jason, Luis, the Head of External Relations at the University, the Coordinator of the Degree Programme in Information Technology, and the Head of the Division in the University, in which the Degree Programme falls. I saw this as a relatively informal meeting in which people could get to know one another, better understand what each was doing, and which could be the first steps in a process of collaboration.

When I arrived at the University with Jason and Luis, expecting a relatively small meeting, I realised that a number of others had been invited – the Secretary of the Division, the Coordinator of the Degree Programme in Agronegocios, and the Head of Department responsible for the programme in IT. As nearly always in Mexico, everyone takes these unexpected changes in their stride.

The meeting essentially focussed on the development of the software park, and the potential role of the university in providing human resources to meet the needs of the companies starting to come to the park. The local government here have donated land to build the first stage of the software park, which now occupies five hectares, and the park has the possibility of expanding into a total of 15 hectares. The second stage of the project, a new three storey building, to which the Federal and the State Government will each contribute about 2 million US Dollars, is planned to start shortly. There are currently about 15 people working in the park , and it is hoped these numbers will grow to 600 by the end of 2009.

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The project is a good example of collaboration between government at its three levels of Local, State and Federal, academic institutions, and private enterprise (in the form of mainly foreign companies). The organization that Luis works for, IJALTI (the Information Technology Institute of Jalisco) has played a key role in setting up this project. IJALTI has already developed a successful software park in Guadalajara (the capital of Jalisco and the second largest city in Mexico) with over 30 companies that is now saturated. So it had been looking for other venues in the State of Jalisco to set up another software park. Similarly, the local government here in Ciudad Guzmán is keen to attract business (which means employment) to Ciudad Guzman.

Traditionally, the primary economic activity in Ciudad Guzmán has been agriculture, and the city then further consolidated itself a regional center through the development of a service sector. The city is also an important educational center hosting the most universities in Jalisco after the capital, Guadalajara. The current local political administration have a vision of creating high value, ‘clean’, jobs here, and locating Ciudad Guzmán firmly within the knowledge-based society.

IJALTI fist looked at Chapala as a possible site for the new software park. Chapala is close to the International airport in Guadalajara and is situated on the shores of Lake Chapala, a beautiful, (but heavily contaminated), lake. It has become a center for a large ex-patriate community of mainly Canadians and Americans. it is said that there are more foreigners living there now than Mexicans. Interestingly, too, DH Lawrence used to live there in the 1920’s, and it is the setting for his extraordinary and controversial novel, ‘The Plumed Serpent’.

However, problems occurred with the land bought for the software park, which meant there was no room for further expansion, so the area will now specifically become a media park . Additionally, the cost of living in Chapala, especially housing, is very high compared to the rest of Jalisco. So the decision was made to locate the new software park to Ciudad Guzmán. Nearly everybody seems to be very happy about this. The businesses that come to Ciudad Guzmán will benefit from skilled labour at a much lower cost than in other countries. The local government is fulfilling its obligations to help create employment, especially skilled employment, which is a priority here, as in all of Mexico. It is foreseen that the software park will be the catalyst for the development of other services and work in the region, such as more housing, better education, hotels and restaurants, tourism, and entertainment

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One of the selling points of Ciudad Guzmán to international and Mexican companies is the quality of life that can be offered here – which is why I like living here. The city enjoys a location within easy reach of Guadalajara, allowing people to enjoy the benefits of a large city, and is also relatively close to the beautiful, and mostly unspoilt, Pacific Coast. It is surrounded by hills on the eastern side, a large lake on the northern side (also, unfortunately, heavily contaminated) and is overlooked by the huge bulk of the Volcano del Nevado, on the western side. As Luis pointed out in the meeting, people working in the software park will be able to enjoy great views of the volcano due to the design of the buildings there, and this is precisely the kind of environment that favours the creative work the software park is set up to offer.

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So everything seems set for success. At the meeting, all the people from the University were very keen to get involved, and try and catch up with the march already stolen on them by the Technological University.

However, as the meeting went on, I began to wonder……… would the arrival in Ciudad Guzman of a number of foreign businesses significantly transform the city?…..would the very thing that is special about Ciudad Guzmán, and which is why businesses might want to relocate or expand here, be lost?……. if the city were to become substantially wealthier, what effect would that have on public security, as up until now, Ciudad Guzman has been one of the safest places to live in Mexico?…………..would the same thing happen as in Chapala, where the housing costs have become prohibitive for ordinary Mexicans, and where the culture has become an amalgam of Mexico , the United States and Canada? For example, it was said that one of the things putting off IBM coming to Ciudad Guzmán is the lack of first-class executive style hotels – I suppose they mean there are no Holiday Inns, Sheratons or Marriots (thank God). ………would the international companies move to another location if one became available with better or equal resources and/or cheaper costs………And, perhaps, most importantly, ultimately who will gain from this development? Will it be the already wealthy elite of Ciudad Guzmán, who own the restaurants, hotels and businesses that will benefit from increased profits? Or is there expected to be what is known as the “trickle-down effect”, or the “rising tide lifts all boats” argument, which can also be seen more controversially as the poor being left to pick up the crumbs?…….And are these concerns, on my part, just an expression of what is known in England as Nimbyism? (NIMBY standing for Not In My Back Yard)