Ex-OFW couple stretches noodle business

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
OFW Journalism Consortium

MINGLANILLA, Cebu province—THIS noodle business is going to the dogs –all 20 of them, in fact.

Aside from a hobby, the dogs also serve as guardians of the childless couple Susana Jimenez and husband Leonides who learned there is more err, bite, to overseas work if money earned there goes into business.

Aside from the dogs, the Jimenez couple is more known here for their Five Star Fresh Pancit Canton noodles factory.

At P15,000 a day of sales revenue, as well as the scale of operations, the business is not something to bark at lightly.

At their compound where their wooden factory sits, a dozen burly workers knead flour, operate mechanized mixers and a noodle-cutting machine.

The factory churns out pancit canton, dried miki noodles, and, just recently, lumpia wrappers, that are sold to households, groceries and the public markets of the municipality of Minglanilla and in neighboring Cebu City.

It was in Cebu, 15 kilometers south of their factory, where the Jimenezes found an unusual source of loans –a cooperative– to jumpstart their enterprise two years ago.

“The Jimenezes are among [the] few stand-out entrepreneurs from our program,” Eunice Enriquez told the OFW Journalism Consortium.

Enriquez, a loan officer of the Philippine Cooperative Central Fund Federation (PCF), cites the Jimenez couple as a model for a return and reintegration program for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

It was Enriquez’s evaluation of the Jimenezes’ business plan that led to a P0.2-million loan in August 2007, which the couple credits for the relocation of their business from Jeddah.

But Enriquez said it was the couple’s diligence in repaying the loan and their drive to expand their enterprise that made them successful.

Indeed, the Jimenez couple has technically brought home a business they began in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The business took nearly a decade in germination, starting from Susana’s work for Sothys Beauty Care Center in Jeddah in 1997.

Susana, who earned through her work as a manicurist before going overseas, was hired by the outlet of Paris, France-based facial care products giant as facial care specialist to rich Arabian clients.

Leonides joined Susana after he was hired as a driver for Sothys’s employees during daytime.

“We made pancit canton there and sold …to Filipinos working in Jeddah hospitals, machine shops, and Arab groceries,” said the 31-year-old Leonides.

They said the income they got from their day jobs were supplemented by the income from this business.

The pancit canton reached even served big supermarkets in Jeddah, until the couple decided to return to Minglanilla in April 2007.

Susana said she enlisted as a member of a PCF-member cooperative, the Development Workers Service Cooperative (Dewseco) so she could avail the loan, which had an annual repayment rate of nine percent.

The loan is part of a government-run enterprise facility that is being subcontracted to PCF for former overseas workers in the Central Visayas region.

The Jimenezes is one of 165 approved borrowers from 2005 to 2008 of PCF’s Livelihood Development Program for Overseas Filipino Workers (LDPO) whose funds come from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

PCF serves as a retailer for OWWA’s LDPO program that provides enterprise loans to returning overseas workers of at least P150,000.

Over a four-year-period, PCF has lent out P27.625 million to 79 male and 86 female borrowers from five provinces in the Visayas.

However, Enriquez admits that while returning OFWs or family members receiving remittances can avail of LDPO loans, an eighth of the total number of LDPO borrowers struggle in making their enterprises grow since “they do not have the capability to run a business”.

When asked what made the Jimenez couple different, Enriquez said their business plan is good.

Susana said they bought additional noodle-making equipment like a slicer, a cauldron, a pressing machine, and a small fireplace.

They also used the money to build the factory.

Slowly, daily production more than quadrupled and the Jimenezes’ P30-per-kilo pancit canton now covers 90 per cent of Minglanilla’s market alone.

The couple said they make sure they set aside P44,000 every month to repay their loans to PCF.

Also, Susana said she pays Dewseco P1,000 every month for her shared capital from her own savings.

Through this diligence, the Jimenezes already repaid their initial loan.

To expand their business, the Jimenezes availed of another loan from the LDPO (P0.25 million) and another (P0.75 million) from PCF’s business enterprise support for total entrepreneurship program.

From this fresh loan, the couple extended their factory and bought a second pick-up van for delivery.

“My husband really has the skilled hands to make noodles since we were in Jeddah,” the 50-year-old Susana said.

Leonides said his skill at noodle making came from his father who hails from the southern Philippine province of Davao.

“I have long dipped my hands into the business, as well as [raising] our dogs.”

Comments are welcome at editor@ofwjournalism.net