HOUSTON, TX.—A topnotch business delegation from Manila touched down in Houston last week for a 3-day investment roadshow that underscored why the Philippines is now considered the newest darling of international investors. The Philippine Embassy, which organized the 3rd Investment Roadshow said the private sector-led delegation was in town with a mission to convince US investors to explore the Philippines as an investment haven. And that is exactly what they did.
The delegation led by prominent Filipino economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas met with about 150 American corporate and government executives in Houston on May 23, then will proceed to Atlanta on May 25-28, and Philadelphia on May 29-30. The Houston investment forum was held in the ultra-modern BBVA Compass Tower at 2200 Post Oak Boulevard.
The standing-room-only Roadshow Forum was a huge success in Houston, following the successes of the 1st Investment Roadshow in Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco in 2012, and in Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston in 2013. “This year’s Investment Roadshow showcased more positive macroeconomic developments under President Noynoy Aquino’s good governance agenda,” said Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr., who accompanied the business delegation in Houston, along with Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, and Trade Commissioner Jose Ma. Dinsay who moderated the business forum. The successful event was hosted and sponsored by the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Texas led by Honorary Consul Ethel R. Mercado and Houston Chapter President Tess Tuazon, the Houston International Chamber of Commerce and BBVA Compass.
Mr. Alfred Austria, President of DMCI Group of Companies and a leader of the construction industry in the Philippines, gave a detailed and compelling presentation on the attractive investment opportunities for American investors in real estate, construction and infrastructure, engineering and architectural services, as well as Call Centers, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO).He described the building and construction boom in the Philippines which does not show any signs of slowing down.
The country’s foremost economist and head of the Philippine delegation Dr. Bernardo Villegas, gave a very comprehensive overview of the positive investment climate in the Philippines, which now experiences an enviable record growth of 7.5% which he predicts to even go as high as 10% to 15% within 10 years. “The 2014 roadshow could not have been scheduled at a better time, now that the Philippines is considered one of the best performing economies in Asia,” Dr. Villegas said. “The Philippines is now regarded as an investment haven by international investors.”
He described the engines of growth of the fastest growing economy among ASEAN countries – the Philippines — as: stable and honest top government, suitable infrastructure, strong liquidity from the outsourcing industry and high levels of dollar remittances from overseas workers, and excellent workforce. He also gave an intellectual discussion of the challenges facing the country, including the military threat from China, weak national defense and a sagging agricultural sector.
Dr. Villegas also predicted and reassured the audience that whomever the people decide to elect to succeed President Aquino, the Philippines will survive and continue to prosper. “Even
if they elect Kris Aquino, a popular movie star, to be the next President (which we hope will not happen), the country will be just fine”, he added.
Aside from bringing more investments to the Philippines, Ambassador Cuisia said he expects the roadshow to further improve trade with the U.S., the country’s third largest partner. He cited statistics from the US Trade Representative that pointed to growing two-way trade between the two countries—from $13 billion in 2009 to $15 billion in 2010 and $22 billion in 2011.
Continued international confidence in the country also prompted The Economist to cite the Philippines as an “emerging giant” in 2013, while in 2012, Foreign Policy magazine ranked the Philippines as the number one “new breakout nation” – an ‘East Asian tiger’.
Philippine Honorary Consul in Texas Ethel R. Mercado cited the records of the U.S. Department of Commerce and said that Texas continues to stand out as the Philippines’ most robust trading partner. It is the biggest exporter of products and services to the Philippines, followed by California, Oregon, Massachusetts and New York. Oil and energy producing equipment, electronics, computers, aircraft, agricultural products such as cotton, and technical services are the leading Texas exports to the country. On the import side, Texas is in the top five states, with electronics, agricultural products and technical services as the main imports from the Philippines.
Honorary Consul Mercado also reported that the Texas’ Filipino population of now more than 250,000 consists mainly of professional workers in the medical, engineering, education, financial and accounting fields. “The vast majority are well-educated and highly-paid professionals. Even during slow economic times from which the state escaped virtually unscathed, the unemployment rate among Filipinos in the state has been negligible”, Mercado added. Many Filipino engineers are employed by the oil companies and by NASA in Houston, and by the IT and Telecom companies in Dallas. There are hundreds of teachers employed by the Texas school systems in South Texas along the Mexico border.
Texas businessman Gus Mercado, Chairman of Datalogix, reported that he and the Texas Philippine-American Chamber are organizing another Trade and Investment Mission to the Philippines, focusing on Central Luzon, with a scheduled audience with President Aquino at the 40th Philippine Business Conference at the Manila hotel. The Trade Mission will include an optional humanitarian weekend side trip to Leyte and Cebu, where the Chamber adopted a devastated island of 7,000 residents.
The two-hour Forum was followed by lunch sponsored by BBVA-Compass and media interviews with CCTV, Houston Business Journal, ABS-CBN, Asian Radio and OnePhilippines. One of the highlights of the day was a very fruitful CEO Roundtable discussion with CEOs of Houston’s Oil & Gas, Financial and Infrastructure industries. Many of the CEOs admitted that coming to the Forum, they were prejudiced against the Philippines, with the misperception that the country was not a good investment destination because of frequent natural disasters and corrupt government officials. They were unanimous in saying that the Investment Forum opened their eyes and will now plan to visit the Philippines to seek business ties and investment opportunities.
The delegation visited MD Anderson Medical Center, which is one of the largest employers of Filipino doctors and nurses in Houston. The guests were also taken by their PACC Texas hosts to the City Hall where they were warmly received by a very personable Vietnamese-American Councilman Richard Nguyen, and the Port of Houston which is the gateway from many Inbound and Outbound oil shipments to and from the Philippines. A dinner was hosted by PACC Texas at Kung’s Chinese Bistro, and at Palms Restaurant sponsored by Datalogix. A farewell and appreciation dinner was hosted by the Ambassador at Batanga, a famous Spanish-Mediterranean restaurant owned by a Filipina entrepreneur in downtown Houston.
After the Forum, a lively reception was hosted by the Chamber at the Westin Galleria Monarch ballroom, where Gus and Ethel Mercado gave the guests special Texas memorabilia gifts and made them “Honorary Texans.” The guest singer-entertainer, Miss Lirio Vital got Ambassador Cuisia, Consul General Lim and Dr. Villegas on a sing-a-long that everyone enjoyed. Tito Refi emceed the evening reception, which was attended by Houston’s Fil-Am community leaders, as well as a big delegation from PACC Dallas. At the reception, the Ambassador thanked Robin Manila and the Vietnamese community leaders who had a telethon and raised more than $300K for Typhoon Hiyan victims.
The Houston visit was so successful and memorable to the special guests, Consul Lilibeth Almonte-Albez from Washington DC commented that Houston would be hard to beat.
Sponsors of the event included: BBVA Compass (Kevin Loder), Datalogix (Gus & Ethel Mercado), Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr Law Firm (Gary Ilagan), Houston International Chamber of Commerce (Reggie Gray), Asia Chamber of Commerce, Remax (Nelvin Adriatico and Ella Guinhawa), Forex, Pinoy Kargo and Filipiniana Too.
Any questions about this article, email Gus Mercado at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Passport Houston thanks the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce for providing this article and accompanying photos.