DAVAO CITY -- Two faces of Korea seem to emerge in Davao these days -- the face of the Korean small business in the streets and those of Korean big investors bullish about the Davao prospects. The two faces never meet.
Just across Victoria Plaza mall in Bajada, the small Kimchi restaurant opens to serve droves of Korean students who come here each year for cheap English education. Kimchi is just one of several small Korean firms sprouting around the city in recent years to cater to the demands of a growing number of Koreans, some of whom have come and settled in Davao for good.
But just a block away on the 17th floor of LandCo building, Young Il Han, the chief executive officer of the all-Korean development firm Good Morning Davao, has set his eyes on much bigger prospects in this city. He represents another face of Korea not easily visible down the street. The Korean firm, which opened last year, is putting in P410 million for its property development projects in Buhangin and the island garden city of Samal this year alone. Justin Choi, chief operating officer, says the company is putting up a 120-unit residential hotel estimated to cost P355 million in a 7,200 square meter lot in Buhangin area.
The high-end facility will be equipped with an English language school for foreigners, including Koreans, a business center and a gymnasium.
Alongside this project is the 12.9-hectare resort and residential farm subdivision estimated to cost P60 million in nearby island garden city of Samal. Both projects, which will begin construction in July, target the high-end Korean, Japanese and Australian tourists and retirees coming to Davao.
Choi says that both projects will hire a total of 500 construction workers during the construction phase and 250 hotel management workers once the two projects are completed.
Both projects only cover the first phase of the Korean firm?s development interest in Davao, he says. The Korean company is currently negotiating with Filipino partners for the development of a 760-hectare area near Davao city, where they plan to put up a P9 billion resort with a 27-hole golf course and a subdivision.
The project, which will cover the third phase of the Korean firm?s development project in Davao, will include an industrial park, where they?re going to invite electronic and computer companies from Japan and South Korea to put up projects geared for exports.
Choi says that the Korean company has chosen Davao from among other areas in the Philippines because of the big potential for property development that remains untapped here.
?There is still much of the raw land area just waiting to be developed,? says Choi, his face beaming as he surveys with confidence the Davao landscape visible through the glass windows of the Landco Building.
?We?re developers, we want new land, that?s why, we choose Davao city,? says Choi, who has experience in land development and investments in Japan, Korea and America. Their Korean-firm Kangwon Land Development Company has successful projects in Jeju island in South Korea and Kangwondo in eastern Korea.
Before the Davao project, the Korean development firm has partnered with Filipino investors in putting up the Good Morning Land Corp., with the property development projects in Batangas, Nasugbu and Rizal in the last five years.
But in 2005, the Koreans started looking for possible development sites. ?We?ve gone to Baguio, Cebu and Boracay but decided that Davao City is best for development,? says Choi. ?There is still much untapped potential in Davao,? he says. ?The city is the second biggest in Asia, it belongs to Mindanao which has good resources and good weather (no hurricanes here), its international airport was constructed by a Korean company, it has a lot of good factors to attract foreign retirees, low prices with high potential for economic growth and plenty of chances to develop a very big project.? ?Good morning,? he says, represents ?hope? and ?a good start.?
Lou Pasawa, city director of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), says he expects the Korean project to have multiplier effect in the Davao economy. Pasawa says the construction industry has 60 ancillary industries that will benefit from its activities, among them are the small construction supplies industries, spare parts, eateries, and other downstream industries.
Aside from Good Morning Davao, another Korean company is about to invest in coco peat production here for exports, according to Pasawa. Michael Kang of the Korean-based H&B Corp. plans to put up a new corporation for export production of coco peats?a fine dust from coconut husks?currently enjoying brisk demand in Korea. The Korean company wanted to put up three processing plants in Davao and surrounding areas, with combined capacity of 100 metric tons per month, says Pasawa.
?They were here scouting for raw materials and when they saw the raw materials readily available, they are ready to form a new company,? he says. The Korean company is still preparing the necessary documents for registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
These big Korean investors, however, have nothing in common with small Korean firms also seen sprouting around Davao, says Choi. Lee Jinwoo, 29, a researcher in Davao for a Korean travel website nomad21.com, says Koreans are coming to the Philippines because everything in the country is very cheap. Even the price for learning English in the Philippines is only half or even a quarter of the price anywhere else in the world, he says. The Philippines is the fourth destination for Koreans to learn English after Great Britain, Canada and Australia.
As Korea increases its job quota for Filipinos to 12,000 this year, even learning centers offering Korean language courses to Korean-bound overseas Filipino workers are also popping up.
Whether we like it or not, the Koreans are coming, says Sonia Garcia, regional director of the Department of Tourism (DOT), who noted the trend among Korean visitors in the last six years. In 2006 alone, a total of 2,647 Korean tourists visited Davao, an increase from 2,622 who visited here in the previous year.
Based on the DOT estimates of $90 average daily spending for each tourist, the number of Korean visitors last year could have spent some $714,690 (or P33.59 million) for an average three-day stay here.
At the Kimchi Restauant along Bajada, it?s half past eleven but only a few Korean customers come trickling in for lunch. Curiously, the Korean restaurant looks deserted. It?s still the middle of May when most of the Korean customers are on vacation, a cheerful Filipina waitress points out.
?At the opening of classes, they?ll be back and the restaurant will be full again,? she says.