Iloilo’s flea market culture is perking up but it reflects an artificial state of MSMEs

Stepping inside the Iloilo Convention Center on the last day of the second run of Mercado Iloilo Weekend Market last September 20 offered a reverberating energy with food, plants, gardening materials, home items, clothes, and even automobile on display for sale.

The volume of people inside the convention center whose ground floor was transformed into an indoor flea market spelled economic revival. Upbeat music amplified conversations and laughter at every corner. It was an atmosphere that Iloilo City needed as the economy is undergoing resuscitation.

The Ilonggos adores a festive set-up as such they went out days after the usual payday to check the wide spread selection of consumable goods; rub elbows with the hip Gen Z entreps, and to blend in intelligent conversations with coronapreneurs who have now transcended amelioration deficit issues.

Outside the hall was a dog’s day out, a person’s treasured best friend, especially during the lockdown. Dogs were instrumental in keeping the human sanity intact, said a dog owning friend, who also intimated that they were adaptive with the pandemic than humans. The dog event was an interesting exhibit of the best and the most pricey breed. Carrying one on leash was equivalent to driving either a Porsche, a Lamborghini, a Hummer, or a Mini – different sizes, distinctive cost.

Iloilo Convention Center as a venue sets a new standard in weekend fairs: space-wise comfortable and airconditioned; convenient for health protocol regulation; great for crowd control management with nightclub bouncers to open and close doors; and with brilliant interior intervention to put ‘behind curtains’ rough sections of an unfinished ICC hall.

Events like Mercado Iloilo Weekend Market demonstrates the thriving flea market culture generally driven by middle to upper class MSME brands intermingling with big corporate trademarks. It is interesting to note, however, if these flea market events reflect the general situation of our MSMEs sector within the context of an ongoing pandemic.

It cannot be denied that micro, small to medium enterprises plays a crucial role in local economy recovery. The challenges that were confronted by many of our MSMEs before the pandemic, however, have tripled with the health crisis. Hence, there are some who are enduring while others are dying.

MSMEs are under-supported and under-funded. Informal conversation with some entrepreneurs on the sideline during the weekend market event have revealed that they are oblivious of the economic recovery direction of the local government, and of the government in general. Their sentiments ranges from low support from government (LGU), lack participation in the economic recovery planning, and no access that will link them to stimulus subsidies.

The situation is aptly described by one as “kanya-kanyang kayod” or to each his own. You need to move by yourself by searching for events that will permit you to sell your products that were confined on stocking since the lockdown in order to earn an income.

Even here in Mercado, “pa bwenas-bwenas” or it depends on luck. Fortunately, the last day of the 3-day weekend market yielded positive income on him, he disclosed.

Similar flea market events and food fairs were also on the calendar but were unluckily postponed because of continuously rising Covid-19 cases in the city. Mayor Jerry Trenas placed numerous barangays on a community level surgical lockdown late September to contain the spread of the virus.

The regularity of flea market events in the city appears to perk up the local economy. The issues raised by some small business owners begs an answer: is there a strategy that holds the economic recovery effort together?

Catching up with digitization. Most MSMEs, especially the ones whose workplaces are in far-flung municipalities, are catching up with digitization. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise to many as far as going digital is concerned for it allowed them to explore social media marketing through Facebook.

But reality revealed that the digitization process is slow. Countless MSMEs are struggling to bring their enterprises to the online platform as a result of lack of technical know-how to operate mobile devices. Many are unfamiliar with the use of applications that were developed to make business easy and convenient, including the use of digital payment wallets.

There were others who were adaptive with digital technology early on, yet, they too, have found themselves at the crossroads because of internet traffic highlighting the country’s snail-paced connectivity.

Moreover, numerous MSMEs needs technical training and additional capital to generate devices that will allow them to integrate digitization into their respective system.

But MSMEs are triggers for economic revival. MSMEs are viewed as effective triggers that can buoy the local economy to a post-pandemic trajectory. This view, however, must be extended beyond the myopia.

First, MSMEs are “Davids” who are facing a Goliath in the fight against economic crisis. Its small size may not be all that is needed, yet it carries the essential advantage for the economy to survive. Small size business is not bad when in crisis situations for it is flexible and handy, operations controllable, and overheard cost, including labor, is manageable.

Second, unlike big business wherein profit is anchored on economy of scale, MSMEs are small-scaled. Hence, its production system is not driven by demands of large conglomerates. Small business possess an absorptive capacity for shocks, as such, it has an ability to gradually rebound given adequate support services.

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, MSMEs flourish in an ecosystem driven by medium, to small, and retail demand. This is the business environment which can incubate economic revival, because retail means cash-based transaction – small amount as it may seem, but it allows cash to circulate.

Our MSMEs holds a natural ability to move the wheels of the local economy. This is not the time to neglect and further marginalize our small enterprises. They play a vital role in the revival of our economy. The government is on the wrong side not to support them.

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