“Here in Iloilo City, it’s not just ‘Business as Usual,’ it’s also ‘Business Unusual,’” Norman Tabud, head of the city government’s Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO), tells Panay News, highlighting the City of Love’s newest investment tagline.

“‘Unusual’ in the sense na we’ve witnessed unprecedented and rapid growth of the city these past few years, especially in the business sector,” he says.

In the first quarter of 2018 alone, 635 new businesses have applied for business permits at the BPLO – on top of the 14,444 diverse enterprises that have already renewed their permits in January – Tabud says.

He attributes the rising number of new businesses to the sudden windfall of investments and the local government’s efforts to innovate and lead in terms of “ease of doing business.”

In a few years, Iloilo City has streamlined its 27-step business permit application and renewal process, reducing it to only three simple steps. The processing time has been similarly reduced: a business permit may now be obtained in just 30 to 45 minutes upon submission of complete requirements. In the past, it took around 10 months for the document to be released.

“Before we started streamlining in 2012, nakalambot ina sing 27 steps with 27 different signatories, unlike now when it’s made simple and accessible,” explains Tabud. “We believe because of this innovation, madamu gid sang mga businessmen ang na-encourage nga mag-register sang ila businesses and damo sang investors from other parts of the country ang na-engganyo to put up their business here.”

Iloilo City also received a Blue Certification Level II from the Office of the Ombudsman, which means it has met 75 out of the 87 standards set in relation to the latter’s anti-corruption campaign and the Anti-Red Tape Act.

“From the time of former mayor and now congressman Jerry Treñas, to former mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog – who was fully hands-on in streamlining our process – to now under Mayor Jose Espinosa III, sige-sige gid ang pagpangita sang paagi nga ma-improve ang business climate,” Tabud says.

According to BPLO data, the business sector is predominantly made up of microenterprises – around 90 percent of which have an asset size of not more than P3,000,000. The most prevalent type of businesses in the city are in wholesale trade and merchandising, followed by the food and beverage and hospitality sectors, with real estate and leasing coming in fourth.

FOOD AND RETAIL

With the Ilonggo’s innate love for food and dining – coupled with the locals’ improved purchasing power – Iloilo’s food and beverage industry has proven to be the main driver of retail growth in Western Visayas.

Restaurants and other food retail outlets, including homegrown and foreign brands, occupy at least 25 percent of Iloilo’s retail space, according to a study by Colliers Philippines.

“Ilonggos are known to have a fondness for food,” Colliers International research manager Joey Roi Bondoc said in their Quarterly Provincial Property Report. “It reflects on the culture of the province and the city, with [their] numerous gastronomic destinations and tasty local delicacies that have endeared [them] to many a tourist.”

With higher overseas Filipino worker remittances, business process outsourcing employment and tourist spending in Iloilo City, many Ilonggos embraced eating out and retail therapy as part of their lifestyle, spurring new growth among businesses.

In the past two years alone, seven neighborhood malls opened as more and more chains tap into the locals’ growing purchasing power.

These are DoubleDragon’s CityMall Pavia; Robinsons Place in Jaro district; CityMall in Parola; Festive Walk Parade Phase 1 at Iloilo Business Park; and Plazuela Dos, SM City Southpoint and City Time Square along the busy Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue in Mandurriao district.

Colliers expects an additional 98,000 square meters of retail space to be added to the city’s stock between 2018 and 2019, with the completion of Megaworld’s Festive Walk Mall Phases 1 and 2, Vista Land’s Vista Mall in Savannah City, and Robinsons Place Pavia.

The international real estate consulting firm also cited Pavia – a second-class municipality in Iloilo province – as slowly emerging as an attractive location for retail development.

ILOILO MEANS BUSINESS

Iloilo City is fast becoming a haven for trade and investment in Visayas and the entire Philippines – and foreign investors are beginning to take notice.

Just this March, the city welcomed the largest delegation of British businessmen to visit the country outside Metro Manila for the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines’ trade mission.

Within a month since, Iloilo City has been visited by British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce, Consul General Russel Brown of the United States Embassy, and Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Jaideep Mazumdar – all amazed by the city’s rapid growth and taking note of the robust investment opportunities in the region.

“We are definitely enjoying the fruits of the city’s investment campaigns,” Iloilo Business Club executive director Lea Lara tells Panay News.

Contributing to the rapid growth in the metro, Lara says, are the introduction of new direct flights to and from Iloilo, resilient public-private partnerships, and the strong initiative to establish the city as a premier MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions) destination.

A National Economic and Development Authority forecast showed that the average growth rate in Iloilo and the Visayas region will be higher than the government’s targeted national growth for 2017-2022. The Visayas is seen to boast a 7.7- to 8.3-percent gross domestic product growth rate, outpacing the national average of 6 to 7 percent.

For Iloilo City Local Economic Investment and Promotion Office head Ritchel Gavan, “Business Unusual” means “the private sector is keen on supporting efforts and initiatives that enable the city to attract and retain investors” and “the local government continues to innovate as it aims for unwavering efficiency.”

For 2018 the BPLO aims to register 2,000 new businesses. With the current investment momentum, the city government is confident in reaching this goal.

“We are also ‘unusual’ in the sense that the local government, despite all the challenges it has faced, continues to function with unwavering urgency and compassion to deliver services benefiting its constituents,” Gavan says.

“Iloilo City’s local economy is here to stay. It is here to compete in the global arena because Iloilo means business,” she says./PN

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