FEATURE: La Tabacalera: Homegrown commercial arcade in Laoag

LAOAG CITY, July 12  – Ilocos Norte’s homegrown commercial arcade La Tabacalera  is fast becoming an enclave of local ingenuity mixed with Manila’s popular brands of restos, coffee shops and retails.

Built by the provincial government of Ilocos Norte last year, the arcade houses carefully-chosen retailers and restaurateurs blending with locally-run businesses namely Samtoy bookstore, Johnny Moon Café, La Casa boutique, Tacos del Norte and an outlet for the collections of Runway Philippines’ finalist and Ilocano designer Amor Albano. Prominent restaurant Jerry’s Grill and Cheesecake complete the blend of local brands and food chain.

But more than just a commercial structure, La Tabacalera also exemplifies public-private partnership as a means of spurring development and providing more local employment opportunities.

It is part of Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos’s answer to the province’s unemployment problem. It was after all her political campaign promise under “Manang Imee equals Trabaho” propaganda to provide jobs to Ilocanos when she courted their  votes in 2010.

Marcos had also rolled out more business activities and economic developments as she ruled the province in her second year as governor. Aside from leasing public buildings to commercial developers, building more commercial belts away from the bustling downtown district to the doorsteps of schools and to known tourist stops, Marcos is also opening more doors for business tycoons to pour their investments here.

With the rise of SaveMore and the on-going HyperMart construction in downtown Laoag, billionaire Henry Sy’s expanding empire is being felt by leap and bound. Likewise, Sen. Manny Villar’s Camella Homes project has unveiled foundation in Ilocos for a flourishing real estate development next to Robinson’s Homes.

Also in the housing sector, the provincial government had secured the approval of Pag-IBIG to build the first public housing project for government employees. The low-cost housing project “Adigi Homes” will be put up in Batac City. The province will also put up a pilot Condominium Project at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag.

With the arrivals of nearly 700,000 tourists in Ilocos Norte last summer, Marcos had  encouraged rural folks to open up  tourists’ home stays to meet the demands of tourist accommodations during peak summer vacations.  She noted that existing hotels and resorts were not enough to accommodate all tourists and vacationers who visited the province last summer. She is targeting to attract at least 2 million tourists in the coming years.

All these and more have elevated Ilocos Norte to the list of Top 10 provinces in the Philippines with an income of more than P1 billion this year or up from its previous income level of P700 million in 2010. The province’s growth rate grew from 8.4 percent last year to 12 percent this year, according to Marcos.