Monday, March 13, 2006

Making cities competitive

By Jigger S. Latoza, Inquirer

LAST FEB. 13, THE AIM (ASIAN INSTITUTE OF Management) Policy Center-with the support of the United States Agency for International Development, The Asia Foundation and the GTZ-presented to the public the findings of the 2005 Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project (PCCRP). Declared as the country's most competitive cities were: metro cities-Davao, Las Pi¤as, Makati, Marikina and Muntinlupa; mid-sized cities-Bacolod, Batangas, Iligan, Iloilo and San Fernando (Pampanga); small cities-Dagupan, Koronadal, Legazpi, Naga, Olongapo, San Fernando (La Union), Sta. Rosa, Surigao, Tagbilaran and Tagum.

For a backgrounder: The PCCRP assesses the capacity of cities to provide an environment that nurtures the dynamism of local enterprises and industries, the general ability of cities to attract investments, entrepreneurs and residents, and to uplift the living standards of their inhabitants. To measure competitiveness, the project looks into the indicators of "competitiveness drivers": cost of doing business, dynamism of local economy, linkages and accessibility, human resources and training, infrastructure, responsiveness of local government to business needs, and quality of life. The PCCRP also provides a benchmarking process that will aid individual cities in measuring competitiveness.

As head of the University of San Agustin (Iloilo) Research Center, which has been the PCCRP research partner in Western Visayas since 2001, I am glad to echo here the best practices of the 20 (out of the 65 surveyed) cities declared as most competitive. These were first articulated by Dr. Federico Macaranas, executive director of the AIM Policy Center.

Foremost, according to Macaranas, is the appreciation of the fact that the "Basics Form the Bedrock" of competitiveness. The provision of adequate infrastructure-roads and bridges, power, water, telecommunications, among others, is a requisite of competitiveness. While there is certainly nothing wrong with dreaming big for one's city, neglect of these basics can effectively block a city's drive to realize its development vision.

Next are the "One Stroke, One Shop" best practices. These, Macaranas says, complement infrastructure in bringing down the cost of business through quick and simplified responses from government. Falling under this cluster of best practices are strategies for investment promotion and the operation of business one-stop-shop centers. Also cited are cities that have gone the extra mile in facilitating things for investors/businesspersons by going electronic in transactions-downloadable forms and documents (including bids), on-line availability of procedures, point persons and contact information and on-line processing.

Macaranas refers to the next set of best practices as following the "Law of Numbers." He stresses the value of accurate and timely collection of statistics-to competitiveness; and more importantly, the imperative for statistical information for policymaking and executive decision-making. He also notes the critical need of many cities to build up capacity in systematically collecting, monitoring and interpreting data. I think this is where collaboration on knowledge management between cities and universities/research institutions assumes great importance.

Competitive cities also have what Macaranas terms the "Stickiness Factor." These are cities where ideas animate people toward action, cities where the local leadership engages the constituency by organizing forums and meetings, and optimizing the mass media and other means of communication for participatory governance. These are cities where the average citizen knows by heart the city's vision statement and development objectives.

Finally, Macaranas says, competitive cities use the "Power of Context." These are cities where leaders agree with Gladwell that "the key to getting people to change their behavior sometimes lies with the smallest details of their immediate situation." In other words, while the city leadership motivates the people to think big, it does not overlook seemingly micro matters, such as garbage collection, traffic management, health and emergency response services, transparency and performance standards.

Basics form the bedrock. One stroke, one shop. The law of numbers. The stickiness factor. The power of context.

The best practices of competitive cities just cited may well be considered not only by other cities but also by provinces and municipalities, particularly capital towns. After all, becoming competitive is not the ultimate end; rather, it is only a means toward a higher goal-that is, attaining prosperity through better public service. This, no doubt, is an aspiration shared by all local government units, regardless of size.

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