A prominent economist and business analyst has found in Batangas the potential “to become another Metro Manila.”

Speaking before Calabarzon Trade and Industry Forum on Wednesday, Dr. Bernardo Villegas said the likelihood of such a development was strong because of the presence of Batangas port, which he lamented was underutilized.

“You have to take advantage of economic trends, manufacturing is making a comeback. Make sure you have investors who will put up economic zones in Batangas City,” Villegas said.

He also said that the local government of Batangas City needed to be more proactive in locating businesses in the city that are potential users of the port noting that even existing economic zones in the province prefer to use the Manila port because of its proximity and convenience.

Villegas mentioned tourism as the economy driver for the province of Batangas with a market of over 20 million traveling Filipinos. The province places significant importance in tourism as a major economic growth factor as it provides sources of income to its natives.

Since it took over port operations in 2010, Asian Terminals Inc. has been hemorrhaging with only one ship calling at the port despite incentives offered by both the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and the Philippine Ports Authority.

The trade forum presented trends and developments directly impacting businesses in Batangas. It is also meant for businessmen and entrepreneurs to engage in dialogue among themselves as well as the academe and Philippine industry leaders and discuss potential areas of collaboration.

With the theme “The Investors Meet the Regulators,” the forum was opened by PEZA board member Francis Ferrer, who talked about the opportunities for and advantages of doing business in an industrial park while encouraging potential investors to take advantage of incentives offered to member-locators in economic zones.

PEZA Policy and Planning Group head Victoria Magsino spoke on the latest infrastructure and industrial zones developments in the region as well as management policies and steps in facilitating business requirements.

Latest National Statistics Office data list more than 1,000 businesses in the manufacturing industry in Calabarzon. Batangas has three industrial parks located in the city of Tanauan and in the towns of Santo Tomas and Malvar. “Why is Santo Tomas, Tanauan and Malvar attracting manufacturing firms? That’s where leadership comes in,” Villegas said.

He challenged business leaders to explore opportunities that maximize economic development outside NCR so that there will be a more equally distributed economic growth in the Philippines.

The trade forum was presented by First Asia Institute of Technology, an institution of higher learning and research located in the city of Tanauan in Batangas.