Friday, May 12, 2006

Lessons from the Most Competitive Cities Study

Rational Technology for May 14, 2006

"All development is local. A growing body of evidence shows that business growth is most supported at the local level." This observation was made by the USAID mission director during the presentation of the Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project (PCCRP) of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

This is self-evident for us who live in a small town like Dumaguete, an implied creed to live for our daily struggles. But it's good to be reminded of this in stark terms every now and then. Given our continued history of patronage, e.g., "this project made possible through the office of Congressman so-and-so" or "GMA CARES", we might sometimes think that our efforts don't matter. Well, our efforts do matter and in a much more significant way than largesse from the national government.

So indeed, if, to paraphrase the saying, growth begins at home, where do we begin? The report offers this philosophy on competitiveness:

"City competitiveness is the ability of a city to create and maintain an environment that sustains more value creation for its enterprises and more prosperity for its people."

While there are several factors affecting city competitiveness (enumerated in my last column), "...foremost is the leadership value of local government officials, followed by the presence of a strong support system (business alliances and responsive civil society). Other factors influencing city competitiveness include the quality of human resources, presence of good infrastructure, and a stable peace and order situation."

The report lists down the following best practices:

1. Basics form the bedrock. Roads and bridges, power, water, and telecommunications have a significant impact on the development of a city.

2. Quick, simplified response from the local government brings down the cost of business.

3. Accurate and timely collection of statistics is valuable. Data builds into policymaking, resulting in regulations and ordinances responsive to current and emerging needs.

4. Ideas should move people to action. The constituency must be engaged through online availability of development plans, text facility, radio programs, pamphlets, meetings, and participatory governance.

5. The key to getting people to change their behavior sometimes lies with the smallest details of their immediate situation, such as health, cleanliness, etc. This principle is explained fully in Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point."

To what extent do we adhere to these best practices? I think the report, available on request from AIM by the local government, should be the basis of a self-examination. It takes a mirror such as this to show us where we excel and where we can improve. Senator Francis Pangilinan, in the keynote speech at the survey results presentation, had these words of wisdom to offer:

"Cities must become pockets of excellence... Each city is not competing against other cities; it is competing against itself. It must surpass its own self."