Wednesday, September 30, 2015

AKLAN: THE PLACE TO INVEST* By Peter Wallace Chairman, The Wallace Business Forum


*A paper presented during the Aklan Investment Forum held on July 17, 2015, Grande Royale  Restaurant, Andagao, Kalibo, Aklan.(last of three parts)

But the issue of low productivity has been plaguing the local coconut sector for decades and Aklan, which now only accounts for 4 percent of the country’s annual coconut production, has not been spared from this. There has been very limited effort made to reverse this. There has been no massive replanting and fertilization of coconut farmlands. It is estimated that around 14 percent of the country’s coconut trees or 44.8 million trees produce little or no yield. Here in Aklan coconut occupies the largest area among major agricultural crops, so it’s a product that could be more actively developed.

One agri product that I particularly like is abaca because 35 years ago I was manufacturing rope made of abaca: Manila hemp as it was called. It’s a great fiber, very strong and manipulable. All kinds of products can be made from it. Pina, too, fits into this area. A beautiful cloth, both grow well here. Then, there are food products like banana, mango, and others. That are ripe (excuse the pun) for greater development, both to grow and to process.
To attract more tourism and agriculture investments Aklan needs to foster a business investment that is conductive to business. And in this regard I’m glad to note that Kalibo, Aklan’s capital, ranks well in the National Competitiveness Council’s (NCC) annual Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness survey. In fact in 2013, Kalibo was cited as the third most competitive municipality in the Philippines, behind Daet in Camarines Norte and General Trias in Cavite.

 The 2014 Cities and Municipalities competitiveness Index (CMCI) ranked local government units (LGUs) based on 3 main categories: economic dynamism, government efficiency, and infrastructure.

Economic Dynamism scores were based on data on the size and growth of the local economy. The number of business registrations in Aklan has grown by nearly a third from 2011 to 2013. For the first 3 months of 2014 business registrations in the municipality already reached 1, 900, accounting for more than two-thirds of the total registrations in 2013. The total gross sale of registered firms in 2013 were up by nearly 60 percent from 2011 while the total number of employees in the municipality increased by a third to 7, 324 in 2013 from 5, 336 in 2011 providing that you can be successful in doing business here. The local business are flourishing and increasing in number. As a result their contribution to the national coffers has been growing tremendously over the years.

Government Efficiency scores were based on data and transparency scores, local taxes and revenues, business registration efficiency, investment promotion, compliance to national directives, and delivery of basic services. Aklan topped this category in 2014.

Infrastructure scores were based on data on existing road network, distance from city/municipality center to major ports, Department of Tourism-accredited accommodations, health infrastructure, education infrastructure, basic utilities, infrastructure investments, ICT connection, ATMs, and public transportation. Aklan fared well in terms of availability of public utilities (1st), health infrastructure (2nd), education infrastructure (11th) and number of DOT-accredited accommodations (13th).

But aside from tourism and agriculture, there are other sectors that could drive Aklan’s growth. Among which is the business process outsourcing-information and communications technology (BPO-ICT) sector which is considered as among the Philippines’ most dynamic sectors today.  Both public and private administrations have been implementing programs aimed at honing this province’s ICT potential.

Last year the Department of Science and Technology- Information and Communication Technology (DOST-ICT) Office held a series of workshops in various provinces including Aklan to promote online freelance jobs. The DOST-ICT Office said that the program is in line with the government’s goal to produce 1.3 million jobs by 2016 in IT-business process management.

Also in 2014 AMA Computer Group through its Chief Operating Officer Arnel Hibo and Aklan officials led by Gov. Miraflores and Congressman Haresco signed a Memorandum of Agreement to build an AMA branch and a call center in Kalibo, Aklan. According to AMA, Aklan has been producing enough graduates who are proficient in English. The province has also vital infrastructure (Kalibo International Airport) and efficient internet connectivity which are key prerequisites in setting up a call center. The call center facility, when completed, will be the first in the province.

Aklan could be the next Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, or Clark and be among Tholons’ Top 100 Outsourcing Destinations in the world. Sitel, Teletech, Cognizant, Telstra, ADP, and DTSI are among our clients and also among the most successful ICT-BPO companies today. They might just invest here in Aklan in the near future.

The Philippines’ ICT-BPO industry is definitely booming and Aklan must not be left behind. The provincial government must ensure that Aklanons are equipped with the necessary skills. This can be achieved by increasing the national budget for Training-for-Work (TFW) programs that adequately provides college graduates with the skills that make them more employable, skills that are in line with what companies need. These TFW programs are not just BPO-centric, but also cover other high-growth industries such as manufacturing, electronics, and tourism, another major job- and livelihood-generating sector here in Aklan. I suggest that Congressman Haresco pushes for the expansion of the TFW budget in the nest national budget hearing.

Aklan has skilled manpower, an attractive business environment, a transparent local government, and vast natural resources. It is definitely heading in the right direction and undoubtedly has the potential to become one of the country’s major business hubs in the near term.

Thank You. /MP

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