FARMINGTON — Farmington is a border town.
Despite being smack in the middle of the Southwest, the city borders a sovereign state.
Downtown Farmington lies just 23 miles from the Navajo Nation, and as the Nation looks at becoming better globally connected to the World Wide Web and improved telecommunications abilities through new contracts, local officials are seeing the possibility of an economic boost for neighboring communities.
"What's good for the Navajo Nation is also good for its border towns," said Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts. "We derive a huge benefit from the economic health of the Nation."
And if the Navajo Nation begins growing its global footprint, that's good for everyone, the reasoning goes.
Farmington's proximity to the sovereign Navajo reservation, a sprawling 27,000 square miles in the high desert, creates an intimate economic and social symbiosis where neither entity can change without affecting the other.
During the next two years, the Nation is scheduled to undergo a significant change.
Although thousands of tribal members still don't have running water or electricity, they could be connected to world markets via the Internet. New contracts and agreements in coordination with state and federal governments and private contractors promise new cell phone towers and new hope.
A silversmith outside of Window Rock, Ariz., would have a chance to sell jewelry to clients in Europe, or perhaps Central America. Navajo weavers would have a chance to sell their wares directly online, without any intermediaries, to places such as Asia or the Middle East.
The change could mean that flea markets and local trading posts would no longer be the Nation's sole outlet for selling its crafts, art and jewelry.
Some experts also feel that improving the Nation's connectivity would increase the world's interest in the unique Navajo culture, increase tourism, and thus increase travel through and enjoyment of time in Navajo border towns, such as Farmington, as well.
It is a culture that already attracts thousands of tourists into the area each year.
Farmington's website states that the city is located "in the heart of America's Southwest, surrounded by world class cultural treasures."
The nearby city of Gallup, another Navajo border town, proudly displays pictures of traditional Navajo crafts and tribe members in full ceremonial garb as part of its online presence.
"I think any increase in connectivity on the reservation would be huge for Farmington," said Chamber of Commerce Director Dorothy Nobis. "The more the amazing and unique history of the Navajo is available online, the more people are going to want to experience it first hand."
Debbie Dusenbery, executive director of Farmington's Convention and Visitors Bureau, agrees that increasing connectivity on the reservation, and thus going worldwide with marketing efforts, would benefit both the Nation and border towns.
"There is a wealth of knowledge about the Navajo culture on the Internet," said Dusenbery. "There are some wonderful websites out there that already provide that function.
Dusenbery hastened to add that increased connectivity would open doors for individuals, and that any increase in the Navajo Nation's economic viability would be good for Farmington.
"Farmington, as a border town, is unique," Dusenbery said. "We serve the role of being a retail trade center, which means that businesses and the community as a whole would directly benefit from any improvement in the Navajo Nation's economic picture."
Jackie McKinney, mayor of Gallup, agrees about the benefits of improved trade, but he also has reservations.
"We've all lost market share for our communities because of the Internet," McKinney said. "People can just sit at home and get whatever they want online."
McKinney's worry is that border towns that provide retail services for the nearby Nation may see a drop in business because Navajo that once came into town for specific goods might soon be able to stay at home and have them delivered.
"I do believe that it would be good for the Nation and neighboring communities if the Navajo made more money," McKinney said. "They are so remotely located with such a high unemployment rate that anything allowing them to work and earn money from home would be great for the whole area."
Melissa Binder, an associate professor of economics at the University of New Mexico, believes that while increased connectivity doesn't have a downside, predicting how positive its effects would be on the Nation or nearby towns is difficult.
"When you are able to connect people, you are able to create communities," Binder said. "The more connections, the more interactions, the more trade. Coasts are richer than interiors because their geography encourages more interactions."
The Internet could act much like an ocean for the Navajo Nation, Binder said.
"It's hard to have economic activity without a bunch of people together," she said. "The Internet definitely brings people together. But it's not like an actual port, it's a virtual one and the question is, can an electronic presence substitute for an actual one?"
Kurt Madar: firstname.lastname@example.org