With only five taxicabs around, you’d be lucky to catch one in Dumaguete City.
Here, people go places in a tricycle, while motorcycles rule the road. For a city measuring 35 square kilometers, this small place, by any standard, still grinds to a halt at noontime to allow everyone to go home for lunch.
“I didn’t believe it at first when they said that in Dumaguete, everything is 10 minutes away. But I found out for myself that it’s true,” says Leonel Joseph “LJ” Lising, senior operations manager of SPI CRM, a business process outsourcing company that had set up shop here in 2009.
“When they say a place is far, it’s actually near. A 10-minute drive could take you to the next town,” according to Lising who hails from Manila.
Dumaguete’s smallness is its own charm. On a typical afternoon, one can find several of its European immigrants hobbling toward their favorite watering hole. There are many such establishments on Rizal Boulevard, which faces Dumaguete bay. There, the immigrants get their favorite fix before they sit back and watch the world go by.
Small wonder why not a few of SPI’s foreign clients have been heard to ask, “Why Dumaguete? There are only 150,000 people there,” recalls Suzanne Lu-Bascara, SPI Global associate director.
The anxiety is not totally misplaced. SPI Global, after all, is a major player in the BPO industry in the country, with 11,000 employees, not to mention some 3,000 more in 24 locations in the United States, Europe, India and Vietnam.
The company’s Dumaguete operation alone expanded from 313 full-time employees in October 2009 to 1,100 employees in January 2011.
“We’re now the biggest private employer in Negros Oriental, doing both voice and nonvoice services,” Bascara says.
The company has made it a point to bring their foreign clients to Dumaguete to see the place, she adds.
“They see that, although the city is small, there is a steady manpower pool generated by the four universities and colleges here, which produce about 5,000 graduates each year, in contrast to the 500,000 graduates throughout the country,” Bascara explains.
Dumaguete is also called a university town. It is home to Silliman University, founded by American missionaries in 1901. Nuns from the order of St. Paul de Chartres set foot on Dumaguete’s shores in 1904 to establish the first campus of St. Paul University in the Philippines.
In 1949, a young teacher named Vicente G. Sinco established what is now the nonsectarian Foundation University, the first Filipino university. The Negros Oriental State University was founded in 2004.
For Lising, these universities and seven other colleges play an important part in providing them quality employees.
“We get nine or 10 walk-ins every day, and we have a success rate of 30 to 40 percent. In contrast, we may get more applicants in Manila, but the success rate is only 10 percent,” Lising says.
Not only do educational institutions provide the 4,000 workers for Dumaguete’s thriving BPO industry, they have also formed an Information Communication Technology (ICT) Council to harmonize the skills of graduates with the demand of the competitive BPO sector.
The outsourcing business is estimated to pump in no less than P34 million a month into the economy of Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental. And that figure is culled from workers’ salaries alone. It does not count the side businesses that the employees support.
“Near our site, some houses have been [turned into] boarding houses,” Lising says. Several restaurants have also sprouted nearby.
Another thing Lising likes about Dumaguete is that workers don’t tend to skip work even if they partied the night before.
“No wonder Dumaguete had been ranked 10th on the list of Next Wave Cities in the Philippines last year,” he says.
SPI Global started operations in Dumaguete with the merger of two companies, E-PLDT Ventus and SPI Technologies, in October 2009. The company’s nonvoice services include publishing and copyediting. It also has a call center that mostly handles the needs of Smart Communications Inc., its sister company.
Bascara says that she and her co-workers are all proud of the quality of their work. Their work ethic won them acclaim in 2009 when the Black Book of Outsourcing cited SPI Global for being the top outsourcing company in the world.
This distinction was based on a poll of about 650 respondents from the global publishing community.
May Dizon, SPI Global director for external affairs and corporate communication, says that the company will soon venture into the more lucrative KPO [knowledge process outsourcing] market, offering content solutions, healthcare and client relationship management.
Also, Dumaguete will be the site of SPI Global’s pioneering venture in the billing and cycle revenue management.
“Dumaguete is a showcase,” Dizon explains. “We want the others to know that, in Dumaguete, we found a good place to grow and expand.”