Sunrise in Cebu

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Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines, has been working hard to highlight the city's trade and industry opportunities, particularly in information technology and business process outsourcing, in an effort to draw more business and training opportunities to the area.

The Cebu ICT 2007 International Conference and Exhibition was the last major event of Cebu Business Month (CBM). It featured top executives from the world's leading Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) firms as speakers and panelists in plenary sessions as well as a three-day exhibition of over 50 ICT and BPO exhibitors and sponsors. The CBM is an annual event that began in 1991 and was created by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) to promote Cebu's trade and industry opportunities.

Francis O Monera, president of the CCCI, told OBG, "We are planning to have an annual ICT [..] conference during the CBM. The CCCI's focus is mainly on [that] as well as building up small and medium [sized] enterprises and entrepreneurship."

Cebu, known as the "Queen City of the South", is centrally located in the Philippine archipelago and is less than 600km from the capital of Manila. It is home to several economic zones where companies receive various incentives such as tax holidays and lower tariffs. The largest of these zones are the Mactan Economic Zones I and II. Combined, there are already over 150 businesses operating there resulting in more than $164m worth of investment. With an infrastructure able to be competitive and sustain investment, Cebu has become the fastest growing economy in the Philippines.

Combined with the efforts of the CCCI, the provincial government and the Cebu Investment and Promotion Centre to promote its ICT sector, the results are starting to pay dividends. Recently, US-based Lexmark, a global leader in the development, manufacturing and supplying of printing solutions, announced a major expansion of their already existing research and development facilities that will create 300 new jobs, while US-based call centre operators such as Sykes, People Support and Convergys account for an additional 4000 jobs. Most recently, Accenture, the management and consulting firm, will be expanding its operations in the country, requiring 500 new hires.

Manolito Taya, senior executive of IT Solutions at Accenture, said, "Investor confidence in the growth of the business process outsourcing industry in Cebu has led Accenture to open its ninth branch in the Philippines."

The only question that remains is whether there are enough qualified individuals to occupy those positions. According to the Cebu Educational Development Foundation for Information Technology (CEDF-IT), a consortium of industry, academe, government and non-governmental organisations that seeks to increase the quantity and improve the quality of professionals in the ICT and IT-enabled services industry, at least 1500 software engineers and programmers would be needed this year in Cebu alone. While Cebu universities graduate almost 20,000 students annually in various IT-related disciplines, only 2% are ready for immediate employment, according to companies operating in the region. This topic was at the forefront of discussion during the ICT conference as many current and potential locators expressed their concerns.

In an attempt to address this issue CEDF-IT has developed a number of programmes and initiatives. Their "flagship" programmes include an IT teachers' academy, which aims to promote and sustain a culture of excellence in IT teaching and learning. The consortium also has a professional certification and training centre, which ensures quality and competence in the practice of ICT, with an eye to local and global industry needs and a research and development unit in order to ensure that universities serving Cebu employers have the capabilities to supply their demand for human capital.

Increased investment to the ICT industry within Cebu will undoubtedly result in sizeable economic growth for the region. If the solutions implemented by CEDF-IT are successful and adequately address the shortage of quality, skilled labour, Cebu will achieve its goal as becoming the ICT capital of the country.

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