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Iloilo eyes small businesses for its OFWs

03 May 2017

Velma Lao, head of the Iloilo provincial government's local economic development and investment promotion office, fields a question during the forum at the Consulate.

By Vir B. Lumicao

Government and city officials of Iloilo are looking to train Ilonggo overseas workers and their families on how to become small entrepreneurs even as they invite foreign investors to harness the economic potential of the province.

The officials, who were in Hong Kong on an investment promotion mission, said the provincial and city governments have programs to teach Ilonggo OFWs entrepreneurship and help them put up businesses so they won’t have to go abroad again.

“We are here to sell Iloilo to Hong Kong investors, but we realize most of our workers take their day off on Sunday, so we decided to meet you today,” provincial board member Renee Valencia (1st District) said at the community meeting of Ilonggos at the Consulate on Apr 23.

The four-women delegation from the Iloilo provincial and city governments came to Hong Kong at the invitation of the Philippine Association of Hong Kong headed by Rex Aguado, an Ilonggo journalist.

The delegation was led originally by Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog, but he reportedly flew back home urgently on Apr 22 because President Rodrigo Duterte was visiting the region and might stop over in the city.

The group met with potential investors from Hong Kong the day before, during which The group led by Mayor Mabilog earlier met with potential investors from Hong Kong,  during which they discussed the potentials and products of Iloilo.

Valencia said the provincial government was looking at how to educate OFWs’ families so that they could appreciate the sacrifices that the workers were making for their sake.

“We have to let them know kung ano ang hirap na pinagdadaanan natin dito, and then, hindi mahirap ang mag-say no kung ang anak ninyo tatawag at magpapabili ng bagong cellphone, o kung anu-ano. Huwag agad magbigay, you have to think twice,” she said.

It is easy to say no for as long as an OFW can explain to the children why she cannot give what they ask for, the official said, adding that the worker should not feel guilty.

Ritchel Gavan, local economic and investment promotion officer who said her father was also an OFW, said Iloilo City would soon start an investment program for OFWs and their families “kasi batid naming kahit may financial literacy program kayo kung ang pamilya ninyo ay hindi alam ang gagawin sa inyong negosyo, it will not succeed.”

 “That’s why the city government will do everything we can do to provide not just employment but entrepreneurial programs para sa inyo where we can help you and your family make it grow so that you don’t have to work abroad again. You spend your time with your family, you grow with your children,” Gavan said.

She added that the city government’s aim is to turn the OFWs and their families into small entrepreneurs who would create jobs for other people while generating their own income.

She said Iloilo City had undergone a big change over the past five years with both new and improved infrastructure in a bid to make the provincial capital more attractive to foreign investors.

“We welcome big investors but we will not abandon small and medium enterprises,” Gavan said.

Velma Lao, the province’s local economic development and investment promotion officer, said the provincial government has entrepreneurship programs where OFWs learn how to run their businesses successfully, which industries they should target, and how to find markets locally and overseas for their products.

“As long as their product is good, we help them connect to the market,” Lao said.

Her advice is for OFWs to tap into the province’s agricultural resources, as agriculture has a big prospect and there is great demand even for such agricultural products as vegetables like kangkong, or water spinach.

“The provincial government is promoting small and medium enterprises because they are the backbone of our economy” and the province is ready to assist micro entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, Aguado urged the Ilongga workers to invite their employers to join an investment mission to Iloilo from Hong Kong, Hainan, Guangdong, Shenzhen, Fujian, and Chengdu from May 18 to 21.

 He said amid the negative publicity about the country, “you spread the good word about your province. Tell them it is the most peaceful province where drugs are gone. Be the messengers of the word.”

Other members of the delegation were Lea Lara, executive director of the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation/Iloilo Business Club, and Joan Montano, assistant city treasurer of Iloilo City.

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