The highly urbanized city in the province of Misamis Oriental has proven fertile ground for both crops and commerce, with a knack for trimming the bureaucratic fat.
In 2015, the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) ranked Cagayan de Oro as the sixth most competitive city in the country, and Misamis Oriental as the second most competitive province nationwide, following Davao del Sur.
Northern Mindanao has an impressive employment rate of 94.4%, higher than the national average, but that is thanks largely to Cagayan de Oro and its manpower. Since August 2013, over 6,904 job applicants have found work as a result of monthly job fairs held by the city’s Public Employment Services Office.
The city’s skilled talent pool is a major engine of business growth, said Eileen E. San Juan, the city’s local economic investment promotions officer. “The average Kagayanon worker is young, college-educated, competent in new technology, and can communicate in English and Filipino, aside from Binisaya.”
“I consider Cagayan de Oro an ‘education city.’ The families [here] put education first and they do everything possible to make sure their children graduate college,” echoed Dean Toro, chairman of Optimum Outsource Partners and a member of the Cagayan De Oro City ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Council. “As one who has spent most of his professional life working with distressed cities in the US, I can tell you this city would give most in the US a run for their money.”
As early as 1995, the city already began computerizing its Business Permits and Licensing System (BPLS) in-house: Today, the national standard is a 5-step process, yet the city continues to stay ahead of the curve with only three steps, with one form and e-signature, and less than an hour’s processing time.
In the 90s, Cagayan De Oro’s Real Property Tax System was also automated; the city is now peppered with billing and queuing kiosks that enable taxpayers and business owners alike to check their tax dues and make payments in less than 30 minutes. USAID Philippines Mission Director Gloria Steele praised Cagayan De Oro for clocking in one of the fastest times in business renewal processing, at less than an hour, in 2013. The national norm? Five days.
San Juan said what makes Cagayan de Oro a major contender among business destinations is the cooperation among its government agencies and the private sector. “The city government and the private sector have a long-standing partnership that has only grown stronger over time,” she said. “We have worked hand-in-hand, enduring trials and enjoying triumphs together.”
Proof of this collaboration is the Cagayan de Oro Trade and Investment Promotions Center (Oro-TIPC), a tripartite cooperation among the city government; Promote Cagayan de Oro Foundation Inc., an organization of business leaders; and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Opening its offices in city hall on October 2014, the Oro-TIPC caters to the needs of investors and provides business promotion and facilitation services, especially for the city’s startups.
Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the city will also get a leg up, said now outgoing First District Representative Rolando Uy, especially when Cagayan De Oro was chosen as the site of the country’s first Negosyo Center. Launched on November 2014 and located at the DTI provincial office, the pilot Negosyo Center will “ease the doing of business in the city” by helping fast-track the government processes involved in registering and starting businesses, said Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV.
Though historically, the city has been relatively typhoon-free, more recently Cagayan de Oro has felt the effects of climate change in the wake of natural disasters like Typhoon Sendong in 2011. “The city has begun to bounce back with a strategic thrust toward resilience,” countered San Juan, with a 30-year plan currently in the works to create a new central business district and city center that will be located in an area with minimum disaster risk.
“All things considered, Cagayan de Oro is primed to be the strategic business, ecotourism, agro-processing, and leisure hub in Mindanao,” said San Juan. “Its relative peace and order situation provides a context of stability that will propel the city toward a significant role in the dynamics and challenges of tomorrow.”
Homegrown business: RedLemon Digital
Mid-2011, Gus Rodano was looking for a home base with a sustainable manpower pool that could meet his company’s growth needs over the next decade—a second-tier city without the prohibitive costs of living and traffic beleaguering other cities. He found it in Cagayan De Oro.
“All the elements needed to make our venture successful can already be found in the city,” said Rodano, who eventually founded RedLemon Digital Media in August of that year. “There’s still plenty of room to grow [here]. For me, people staying in Cagayan de Oro at this point in time enjoy a higher quality of life,” he said.
The company specializes in website development and social media marketing, but he found Kagayanons ideal for the online marketing industry not just because of their fluency in English or problem-solving skills, but their “strong drive toward excellence, making them adaptable to change,” Rodano said.
Victoria is a freelance writer who covers business, tech, and lifestyle. She is also the former features editor of Entrepreneur Philippines magazine. Follow her on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/vikkiverka.
This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines magazine. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.