Sleepy Philippine Towns Wake Up to Answer World’s Phones

Jennifer Ann Palmares-Fong has come home. Fifteen years after leaving Iloilo in the Philippines for the bright lights of Manila, she and her friends have been lured back as her once-quiet hometown is transformed. 

“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect there would be these developments mushrooming all over,” Palmares-Fong, 32, said as she prepared to take clients to view a site for new $57,000 condominiums. “It used to be a sleepy place, now at night it’s all lights.” 

Iloilo, an hour’s flight south of Manila, is at the center of the country’s biggest provincial transformation since independence in 1945 as President Benigno Aquino tries to reverse decades of migration to Manila and abroad. New airports, roads and ports are drawing property developers, retailers and business processing companies that fueled a decade of growth in the capital, like U.S. call-center operator StarTek Inc. and hotel chain Marriott International Inc. (MAR) 

“The government has been working hard to develop secondary cities, recognizing them as critical centers of economic growth,” said Alexandra Vogl, an urban development specialist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila. “Many are rapidly becoming tourist hubs and centers of trade, services and industry.” 

Construction continues at the site of the 6,400 square-meter Iloilo Convention Center, being built for the APEC meetings in 2015, in Iloilo, Panay Island, Philippines, in this undated handout photograph released to the media on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. It can accommodate 3,700 people and is located inside Megaworld Corp.'s Iloilo Business Park.

Construction continues at the site of the 6,400 square-meter Iloilo Convention Center, being built for the APEC meetings in 2015, in Iloilo, Panay Island, Philippines, in this undated handout photograph released to the media on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. It can accommodate 3,700 people and is located inside Megaworld Corp.'s Iloilo Business Park. 

From Jakarta to London, governments are trying to counter the draw of dominant capital cities that soak up the lion’s share of workers and investment. In the Philippines, that means spreading some of the wealth from Manila, an urban sprawl of about 22 million people that accounts for more than a third of the nation’s economy.


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