On a corporate level, Cebu is a pretty good place to invest in. Despite the aftereffects of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, Cebu has been rapidly making inroads into new industries. Business-wise, Cebu is an exciting place to be right now.

Until quite recently, business in Cebu was dominated by light industry. The local furniture industry is still going strong; Cebu produces world-class furniture, most of it for the high end of the export market. I believe the specialty is furniture with inlaid stones, often locally quarried stones; it's a bit hard to tell because most of the furniture is exported and little of it is visible here, probably due to the high value of the products. Cebu X is a trade show which celebrates Cebu's furniture industry. A group of furniture designers, known as - I think - "8" are based in Cebu and Manila and are renknowned worldwide. Newsweek featured them recently. Some overseas furniture manufacturers, such as Dedon of Germany, have operations in Cebu.

In addition, Cebu has a special economic zone, called MEPZA, home to factories for some well-known brands, such as Olympus, Pentax, Timex, NEC, and Tamiya. The Fortune 500 automotive interiors firm Lear also has a facility in MEPZA. While China has become the world's workshop, quite a few companies have chosen to tap into the relatively high levels of skills offered by Cebu's workforce. The printer company Lexmark, for example, have an research and development center in Cebu. It really does seem as if Cebu will stay competitive thanks to the English-language proficiency of the management and workforce, and quality of life afforded to the foreign management staff.

Japanese shipbuilders Tsuneishi operate a huge fastcraft yard in Balamban, on the other side of the island. The largest factory in Cebu is still Mitsumi, a Japanese electronics components plant in Danao. It employs tens of thousands and brings in the bulk of island revenue.

Cebu's dynamic surge has been spurred by the Internet and the boom in outsourcing. India has been getting all the attention for outsourcing, but Cebu is actually a far better place to locate a call center than India. For one thing, the English-language skills of the Filipinos are much better than those of Indians, who can be a little hard to understand, even via email. While a few companies have parked their call centers in Manila, Cebu is more cost-effective, and Cebuanos tend to speak better English than the people in Manila, who can afford to get by on their native Tagalog, which, along with English, is an official language of the Philippines.

Some of the call centers in Cebu are 88th Floor, Sykes, People Support and E-telecare. A recent addition has been Bigfoot, which was uprooted from New York and plonked down in Cebu by its whimsical billionaire owner. He went on to create one of the best coffee shops in town, as well as Cebu's first and only film school.

Cebu's entry into the group of elite nations at the vanguard of the IT revolution was confirmed when NCR recently moved a chunk of their operations to the Asiatown IT Park across the Waterfront. Ever since the administration of Mayor Alvin Garcia, the municipal government of Cebu has been putting a lot of effort into IT, and the Asiatown IT Park, inaugurated in 2003 and located on the grounds of Cebu's first airport, is a good example of government and business working together to drive the city forward. Given trends in the developed world, outsourcing - both in the form of call centers as well as higher value IT - can only grow as an industry, and Cebu is well poised to ride the crest of the wave.

Some of Cebu's business leaders are now predicting a boom in medical transcription, and one or two technical schools have started aggressively marketing courses in this area. But with a future in IT, who needs medical transcription?


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