THE infrastructure unit of a conglomerate will pour more investment into Balamban town in midwest Cebu, a move that will create 16,000 jobs and propel the growth of other industries and neighboring areas.

Aboitiz InfraCapital (AIC), the infrastructure arm of the Aboitiz Group, will increase its investment for the 39-hectare expansion of West Cebu Estate in Balamban, with the upcoming development of its commercial district.

Balamban Mayor Ace Binghay welcomed the development Thursday, May 25, 2023, acknowledging that the estate’s 30-year presence in Balamban has been critical to the town’s economic growth, as it catapulted Balamban to first-class municipality status, from fifth-class municipality, as investment, job and livelihood opportunities flourished in the area.

Rafael Fernandez de Mesa, president of Lima Land Inc. and Cebu Industrial Park Developers Inc. and senior vice president for Economic Estates of AIC, said the company has already earmarked P800 million this year to fund the estate’s expansion.

“We are now in the process of pinpointing additional investment that we will be pouring in over the next few years to develop the commercial district which will include the neighborhood mall,” de Mesa said in a media briefing on Thursday.

This expansion project, which will host light to medium industries and other mixed-use businesses, will add 16,000 more jobs (updated from the 14,000 earlier reported) in the town to bring the working population in West Cebu Estate to at least 30,000.

The industrial expansion, which aims to cater to industries beyond maritime, such as automotive, manufacturing, and logistics, will be completed in 2024 or early 2025.

The commercial development, on the other hand, which will give rise to a central business district and commercial lots for various uses, will break ground this year.

West Cebu Estate, formerly called West Cebu Industrial Park (WCIP), is celebrating its 30 years in the business this year.

The estate is a 540-hectare mixed-use development in Balamban and is a 60-40 joint venture between the Aboitiz Group and Tsuneishi Holdings of Japan.

The success of WCIP since 1993 enabled the estate to grow from 202 to 540 hectares, which includes the 39-hectare expansion.

Currently home to 11 locators and 14,000 employees, the estate has been spurring growth in investments, jobs and livelihoods across the municipality of Balamban and neighboring areas of Toledo and Asturias, according to de Mesa.

West Cebu Estate has attracted P32 billion in investments from its locators since the start of its operations.

Foreign missions

Even while the construction is ongoing, de Mesa said the group has already started marketing the properties and courting investors through investment missions to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

“What we want to achieve is to bring in more foreign direct investments to the country. We are doing this via the economic estates,” said Cosette Canilao, president and chief executive officer at AIC.

Canilao said the expansion of West Cebu Estate is part of the group’s long-term vision of transforming all of its estates into “a smart, next-generation, economic center that will draw more businesses and green development into the province.”

“We will make sure to maximize being part of the bigger Aboitiz group by leveraging the synergies and capabilities within it,” said Canilao.

She cited, for instance, the group’s plan to employ data science and artificial intelligence in collaboration with Aboitiz Data Innovation to make processes and services inside the group’s estates even more efficient and responsive to the needs of the locators.

The Aboitiz group has investments in infrastructure, real estate development, financial services, power generation and distribution, food production and data science.

Engine of growth

Mayor Binghay recalled that back in the day, the town’s residents were highly dependent on agriculture and some employment in the nearby Lutopan Mining or Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp. in Toledo City.

But when the Aboitiz Group came and transformed Balamban into the shipbuilding capital of the Philippines, the town and its people experienced economic and social progress.

“We are truly blessed and grateful,” said Binghay.

West Cebu Estate is home to shipbuilding firms like Tsuneishi Heavy Industries (Cebu), Austal, Advance Catamaran Composites and Cebu Maritime Industry that have produced some of the largest and most sophisticated sea vessels in the world.

“It gives us great pride that what is produced here in Balamban goes on to be seen around the world, showcasing the skill and ingenuity of the Filipino labor force,” said de Mesa.

Aside from employment generation, Binghay noted that continued investments of West Cebu Estate have created ripple economic effects.

“When a company opens and hires people, opening of micro businesses follow,” he said, adding that employment results in more spending power.

Also betting big

Property developers, on the other hand, are also betting big on Balamban’s economic potential.

Binghay said recent developments including the planned transfer of the Cebu Provincial Capitol from Cebu City to Balamban is already making land values appreciate.

“It’s normal. When there’s an industry opening, property developments follow,” he noted.

Real estate firms like Cebu Landmasters Inc., Syntech Propertics Inc. and Aboitizland Inc. have already built residential projects in Balamban.

SunStar Cebu earlier reported that the Capitol had already allocated P550 million under its 2021 budget for the construction of the Cebu Provincial Government Center (CPGC), intended to house both the executive and legislative offices of the Cebu Provincial Government, in an area between Barangays Cansoromoy and Cambuhawe.

Last year, the National Government also initially allocated P200 million from the General Appropriations Act to be used by the Province for site development.

According to the Capitol, the Provincial Government has already secured six titled lots measuring 17.5 hectares at the project site.

Last February, the Department of Public Works and Highways in Central Visayas expressed hope that it could finish its work on the structural foundation of the CPGC by July, instead of the original completion target of November.

Town Councilor Roel Ponce Cabañero said then that the government center could also help spur economic activity and attract people from other towns and cities in the province who are looking for jobs, helping Balamban in its bid for cityhood.