20 Thriving Cities to Watch in 2020

Table of Contents

  1. Next Wave Cities
    1. Baguio
    2. Cagayan de Oro
    3. Dagupan
    4. Dasmariñas
    5. Dumaguete
    6. Lipa
    7. Malolos
    8. Naga
    9. Sta. Rosa
    10. Taytay
  2. Emerging Cities
    1. Balanga
    2. Batangas
    3. Iriga
    4. Laoag
    5. Legazpi
    6. Puerto Princesa
    7. Roxas
    8. Tarlac
    9. Tuguegarao
    10. Zamboanga City

Years ago, Manila would be the first thing that pops into people’s minds when the talk of progressive cities comes up. Today, it’s not only the hectic, hyperactive capital that stands out. More cities emerge to be equally thriving in business, tourism, and various aspects of modern life.

Whether you’re exploring where your entrepreneurial ventures can take off or merely looking for your next family home, it’s worth considering these cities to make the most of your decision. 

Below is a list of some of the thriving and emerging locales identified to be the hottest destinations for promising economic opportunities. They stood out from the rest, as they’re able to support information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) companies, given their talent pool, infrastructure, and business environment.

‘Next Wave’ Cities

The so-called next wave cities prove to be prime alternatives for investments outside Metro Manila.

Baguio City: The Summer Capital Turned Economic Hub

The summer capital of the Philippines is one of the major economic hubs up north, fueled by its reputation as a top vacation destination. Thus, most of the successful investments are tourism-oriented, from small pasalubong stalls and tour guide services to well-known accommodations and restaurants. At the same time, the business processing outsourcing industry experiences steady growth. Six IT ventures are presently at the Baguio Economic Zone, and real estate developers are gearing up for more projects to accommodate the growing demand for BPO-friendly spaces

The near completion of the Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLEX) extension, which cuts travel time to Baguio from Metro Manila to a mere three to four hours, will make the city more attractive to investors as it becomes increasingly accessible.

Cagayan de Oro: NorMin’s Strong Business Enabler

One of the richest cities in the country, Cagayan de Oro (CDO) is a key locale in Northern Mindanao. It has adopted computerization of business permits and licensing, and assessment and payment of real property tax, making it easy to do business in the city. They started going through business permit renewals, even before the new year came in, as Business World reported.

A major milestone that happened in the locale is the inauguration of the biggest passenger terminal building at the port of CDO last July. According to Rappler, the two-story structure has a floor area of about half a hectare with a holding capacity of 3,000 passengers, triple its original capacity. This can spur an even more vibrant economic and tourism activity in the city.

Dagupan: The North’s Most Competitive City

This city is the premier economic center of Pangasinan. In 2017, the Sunday Punch reported that the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) designated Dagupan to be an economic zone, given its strong infrastructure support for BPO, ICT, and tourism industries. Meanwhile, in 2018, the city earned recognition as the most competitive city in Region 1 from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), as reported by Philippine News Agency. With TPLEX as the gateway to the north, tourists and business investors can easily access Dagupan and discover for themselves the vibrancy of the city.

Dasmariñas: South Luzon’s Bustling Economic Center

Cavite is one of the fastest-rising regions in the country, which is why it is one of the cities to watch in 2020. Its most aggressive city in terms of economic activity is Dasmariñas. At present, the urban center has three economic zones: Molave Industrial Compound, Dasmariñas Technopark, and First Cavite Industrial Estates. Soon, the city will see the rise of a mixed-use development, expected to entice top talents and businesses in the country. According to Lamudi’s trend report titled Cavite Trend Report 2019, Dasmariñas is one of the most searched cities in the region. With more real estate developments emerging, it’s not far-fetched that the municipality will continue to be more in demand.

Provinces south of the metro will flourish in the next few years, given the boom in infrastructure in the area. The Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX), the alignment connecting South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) to Cavite Expressway (CAVITEX), will reduce travel time from two hours to 45 minutes. The extension of Skyway will also increase the accessibility of the region.

Dumaguete: A Go-to Business Destination in Visayas

Dubbed as a university city, Dumaguete cradles plenty of educational institutions. The municipality, however, is more than a hub for academic excellence. It’s also a go-to for business investments. For one, it has three economic zones: Dumaguete Business Park IT Plaza, LP Information Technology Park, and LinkSy IT Park. At the same time, real estate players are busy developing lands for residential, commercial, retail, and industrial use.

Infrastructure projects are in full swing in the city, according to PNA. The Metro Dumaguete by-pass and diversion roads, which will undergo widening, will be completed in 2020. The Bacolod-Dumaguete-Bayawan Priority Corridor, meanwhile, is a collaboration project of three DPWH engineering districts, linking Bacolod City to Negros Oriental. The ease of access between the two Visayan provinces is set to increase trade, economy, and tourism.

Lipa City: The BPO ‘Barako’

The province isn’t only popular for its kapeng barako and antique churches. It’s also increasingly becoming a favorite of the BPO-IT industry, with plenty of global brands making the province its headquarters. Alorica, for one, has its largest facility in a mall in Lipa. The entire sector is pumping millions into the city’s economy while sharpening promising homegrown talents. 

Lipa is one of Southern Luzon’s busiest business hubs, making the region home to some of the notable cities to watch in 2020. With the near completion of the Skyway extension and CALAX, experts expect that investors will be more interested in establishing ventures in the Batangas province.

Malolos City: Bulacan’s Burgeoning Business District

Bulacan won’t be left behind when it comes to business destinations. In fact, a lot of BPOs are already taking root in the province. In the middle of 2019, PNA reported a 12-hectare cyberpark breaking ground in the city of Malolos. Bulacan Cyberpark and Business District Project will not just have BPO buildings, but also high-end hotels, shopping malls, and a convention center. Property developers are optimistic that the project will attract call centers, transcription companies, and third-party BPOs. 

Additionally, the Metro Rail Transit System (MRT) Line 7, which connects the MRT-3 North Avenue Station to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, will make the Bulacan province more accessible, and thus bolster its image as a go-to investment hub.

Naga City: Bicolandia’s Booming Tech Center

US-based tech giant IBM stationed one of its local offices in the Queen City of Bicol. Since its establishment, it has been generating thousands of employment opportunities in the area. Meanwhile, property developers have been flocking to the city as well, putting up cyber parks and buildings, making Naga a promising IT center. Earlier this year, the local government launched its one-stop-shop for business permit registration, facilitating ease of doing business.

The development of infrastructure projects around the Bicol region can spur business investments in the city. This includes the construction of Legazpi and Masbate airports, Camarines Sur Expressway, and Quezon-Bicol Expressway. 

Sta. Rosa City: Investment Capital of South Luzon

After Naga, IBM chose Laguna as the location of another facility outside Metro Manila. Located in Nuvali, the company has attracted local talents and made the area equally competitive for business investments. At the same time, Sta. Rosa is home to four PEZA-accredited economic zones, namely, Laguna Technopark, Greenfield Auto Park, Santa Rosa IT Park, and Toyota Special Economic Zone. The city rightly lives up to its title the “Investment Capital of South Luzon.” 

Investments are set to pour into the cities to watch in the next few years, given the current infrastructure developments in the area. Sta. Rosa will benefit greatly from accessibility brought by CALAX, Skyway extension, North South Commuter Railway, and PNR South Long Haul Railway. Experts see more master-planned communities rising in this region in the future.

Taytay: The Next Central Business District of the East

Known as the garments capital of the Philippines, Taytay is popular for its tiangge or bazaars where you’ll find the best bargain finds. This municipality, however, is busy not just in making trendy clothes, but also in creating a business-friendly community. For one, there have been talks as to how the garment industry can scale up and be competitive globally, yet again, as part of the Manufacturing Resurgence Program–Industry Roadmapping Project initiatives. At the same time, outsourcing companies are establishing themselves in the Rizal province, occupying cyber centers that property developers have been propping up in the last years.

The planned MRT-4, a train traversing Ortigas district and the Rizal province, will make Taytay more accessible. Recently, it was one of the projects members of the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) approved.

Emerging Cities

Emerging cities are also poised to become prime hotspots for positive economic opportunities. Like next wave cities, these cities to watch in 2020 are located in different parts of the country.

Balanga: Bataan’s Modernized City

This year, Balanga’s local government inaugurated the modern capitol building. Called “The Bunker,” the seven-story building has a total floor area of more than 23,000 square meters. It houses commercial enterprises and different government agencies, from the National Bureau of Investigation and Registry of Deeds to the Department of Trade and Industry and Land Transportation Office. It’s a one-stop commercial hub and government center, designed to make it easy for people to do business transactions.

The modern capitol building reflects the progress Balanga has experienced over the years. The province has since welcomed established digital innovators in its turf, like Genpact Ltd and Multi-Source Global Network. At the same time, it has provided ICT-enhanced education in public schools. With the improved Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and the 28-km proposed Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge, the local government expects more investors tapping into Balanga’s IT-ready talent pool and infrastructure.

Batangas: A Rising Economic Provincial Capital

The capital of Batangas province was one of the cities recognized for its “economic dynamism” in the 7th Regional Competitiveness Summit. The DTI gives this specific recognition to cities that initiate activities that allow stable industry expansion and encourage higher employment. It’s a testament that the city is ready to welcome more businesses. 

Similar to Lipa, Batangas City will benefit from CALAX and Skyway extension in making the area more accessible to interested entrepreneurs, tourists, and residents.

Iriga: Bicol’s IT District on the Rise

This city is gradually delving into being a marketplace for the BPO sector. The industry is one of its investment priorities. In fact, the Iriga-Rinconada ICT Council partnered with the industry, academe, and government to strengthen the digital data industry in their province. Currently, the local government is working towards establishing its first IT technopark. By 2020, they aim to be one of the next wave cities, generating 5,000 direct jobs and 15,000 indirect opportunities. 

The development of roads and ports in the Bicol region will prove valuable to the LGU’s goal. The Bicol International Airport’s target completion date is 2022. Camarines Sur Expressway is also slated for completion in the same year. Meanwhile, PNR Bicol will be finished in 2023.

Laoag: Up-and-Coming BPO Focal Point

This Northern province has been establishing itself as a viable destination for BPO companies. In recent years, big brands like Accenture decided to head North to expand their operations. This has created thousands of jobs for locals and re-energized the economic growth of the province. Meanwhile, property developers are maximizing the demand for office space, getting themselves busy with construction of new cyber hubs. Considering the improved TPLEX and NLEX, the city will prove more enticing for entrepreneurs looking for strategic venture locations. 

Legazpi: Bicolandia’s Emerging InfoTech Hub

Serving as an aerial gateway to Bicolandia, the capital of Albay is known for its adventure tourism. At the same time, it’s home to IT parks and industrial buildings, like Legazpi City Special Economic Zone, Bicol Regional Agro-Industrial Center, Embarcadero IT Park, and the City Light Industrial Park. This makes the capital an ideal location for BPO companies.

With the construction of Bicol International Airport, the Pasacao-Balatan Tourism Coastal Highway, and the Camarines Sur Expressway, more tourists and investors will be enticed to visit the region and make their way to Legazpi.

Puerto Princesa: The Next Accommodations Investment Hub 

Known for pristine beaches and natural wonders, Puerto Princesa is a must-visit destination. In 2018, the province saw 1.8 million tourists, a figure 21 percent higher than the previous year. Dynamic tourism is what drives business growth. Island-resorts and accommodations are the most promising business opportunities in the locale. Recently, the city received a pledge for a P27-billion investment from different companies.

Considering the infrastructure projects that were finished and are about to be completed in Palawan, like the construction of Taytay-El Nido Road and the San Jose-Port Barton road leading to Puerto Princesa airport, the city is positioned for better economic growth.

Roxas: A Thriving Tourism-Tech Destination

The Seafood Capital of the Philippines is known for its lively, vigorous tourism. It’s marked by beaches and hills to explore, restaurants to try, and heritage sites that make one nostalgic. At the same time, Roxas is home to some of the big BPOs in the country. This tourism-technology industry combo makes the city a hub poised for economic growth.

Of course, urban planners point to the government-sponsored infrastructure projects in the Western Visayas region as main drivers for investments in the city. The feasibility study of the inter-island bridge connecting Panay, Guimaras, and Negros will be completed next year. The expansion of the Iloilo International Airport can also increase accessibility in the area.

Tarlac: Home to the “Modern Philippines”

This Central Luzon province is teeming with big property investments. For one, it cradles “the vision of modern Philippines,” New Clark City, which houses plenty of real estate developments, from the athletes’ village and the aquatics center to the 20,000-seater athletics stadium, to the National Government Administrative Center and the central business district. Outside this government-funded modern city, there are also private real estate players coming to Tarlac. A big name, for instance, was reported recently to allocate over a billion pesos for a mixed-use estate development.

Tarlac is now more accessible with TPLEX and SCTEX. It’s expected to become more accessible when PNR North-South Commuter Railway opens for partial operations by 2021 and the Central Luzon Link Expressway soon.

Tuguegarao: Cagayan Valley’s Rising “Silicon Valley”

The warmest city in the country is also a fast-rising municipality. Known for its historic churches and colorful festivals, Tuguegarao attracts tourists. In 2017, the Cagayan Valley welcomed one million visitors, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. But beyond receiving tourists, the CagVal capital also woos investors, not only with its safe, friendly community but also with its ease of doing business. Earlier this year, the city opened its Business One Stop Shop, partnering with the DTI. 

Infrastructure development is also at its peak in the CagVal region. Among the projects that are in the pipeline are the four-lane Pinacanauan Bridge and the 335-kilometer Cagayan Valley Eastern Seaboard Highway. Meanwhile, the Cagayan North International Airport (CNIA) is already offering commercial flights.

Zamboanga: A Smart City by 2020

ICT-BPO is one of the priority industries of this highly-urbanized city in the South. In fact, the local government aspires to become a smart city, a locale that primarily uses ICT in civic and community affairs, by next year. In 2016, the city is among the LGUs commended for its e-readiness. The recognition is granted to places that pioneer in the adoption of ICT in improving government services, revenue or tax collection efforts, and transparency in operations. With this good track record, Zamboanga City’s goal of becoming a smart city is within reach, along with enticing moguls and talents.

Infrastructure projects in the Mindanao region, such as the Mindanao Railway and Zamboanga City-Zamboanga del Norte link road, can further enhance the image of this smart city. 

This is the age of flourishing cities outside Manila. The entire country is bustling with vigorous business, tourism, and infrastructure development, making for a positive outlook for the year ahead. Ultimately, these cities to watch in 2020 paint the image of economic growth experienced by all. 


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