SBMA eyes $8-B investments in 2010

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    SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has set an investment target of $8 billion at the end of this year, as officials expressed confidence of an economic rebound this year among industries here in the Subic Bay Freeport.

    SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza made this announcement on Tuesday during this year’s State of the Freeport Address (SOFA), an annual reporting to the investor community under the auspices of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC).

    “Growth in committed investments slowed in 2009 to 2.5 percent, but this is poised to rebound in 2010,” Arreza said.

    He said that with large projects already in the pipeline, the SBMA aims to propel cumulative investments in Subic to a total of $8 billion in 2010.

    Arreza said that among the prospective big-ticket developments that would start this year are the $130-million project of Harbour Centre Port Terminal, the $200-million expansion of Mabuhay Satellite, the $800-million resort and commercial complex of Subic Neocove, and the $1.09-billion resort development project of MCastle, another Korean investor.

    Noting a steady increase in the number and amount of investments in the last five years, Arreza said the SBMA posted a $5.958-billion cumulative investment total last year despite the effects of the global financial crisis.

    “With this, we expect a better investment climate in Subic this year,” he added.

    According to figures from the SBMA, the number of investors almost doubled since 2005, the year when the administration of Arreza and SBMA Chairman Feliciano Salonga took over.

    From a total of 571 in 2004, registered investors in the Subic Bay Freeport rose to 1,232 in 2009, or a 116 percent increase over the last five years. Meanwhile, total investments climbed from $2.313 billion in 2004 to $5.958 billion last year, posting a 155 percent increase during the same period.

    “Even as the growth rate slowed to 7 percent in 2009 from a high of 23 percent in 2008 because of the global financial downturn, projects from domestic firms somehow offset the slow-down among foreign companies,” Arreza said.

    Among the big Filipino firms that proposed projects last year was Ayala Land, Inc., which has set aside $60 million for a real estate development project that would start at the free port and eventually expand into nearby areas in Olongapo City.

    Arreza said that investments by local firms like Ayala helped make up for the cancellation of a $312-million project by the Chinese investor Hebei Jingniu, as well as the pullout of FedEx, which invested $100 million in the free port.

    Arreza said the growth in investments also resulted in greater economic activity in the free port zone, that in turn resulted in a 53 percent increase in the number of jobs from an active workforce of 58,952 in 2005 to 87,226 in 2009; an 84 percent increase in exports, from $586 million in 2005 to $1.079 billion in 2009; and a 64 percent increase in revenues, from P3.41 billion in 2005 to P5.6 billion in 2008.

    In the same occasion, SBMA Chairman Feliciano Salonga said that the agency’s business-friendly investment policies ensured continuous developments in the Subic Bay Freeport and kept it afloat amid the recession.

    “The SBMA focused on the essentials. That’s why we managed to come out alright from a turbulent year,” Salonga said.

    Salonga also cited some Subic investors that decided to expand operations despite the global economic downturn, as well as the seaport department and tourism group of the SBMA, calling them “star players” of SBMA.

    He said the SBMA seaport department posted a revenue of P472 million in 2009, the highest since it started operations in 1993. On the other hand, the SBMA tourism department managed to increase visitor arrivals here from 2.9 million in 2008 to 4.1 million in 2009.

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