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China's Smog Is Scaring Away Top Talent

The best and brightest are fleeing China’s gloomy, smog-covered cities. Attracting top foreign talent has become a priority for any country hoping to eke out its place in this new globalized information age, and China’s air pollution problem is hamstringing its efforts to stay competitive on that front.

A recent report by the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing found that nearly half of the foreign firms surveyed had struggled to attract quality executives to the country’s hazy megacities. Reuters reports:

Some 48 percent of the 365 foreign companies that replied to the chamber’s annual survey, which covers businesses in China’s northern cities, said concerns over air quality were turning senior executives away.

Pollution is “a difficulty in recruiting and retaining senior executive talent”, said the report. The 2014 figure is a jump from the 19 percent of foreign firms that said smog was a problem for recruitment in 2010.

We noted the other week that many companies have been forced to pay a premium to employees willing to be based in China for precisely this reason. To be the best, you have to hire the best, but top talent isn’t going to want to labor under perpetually gray skies. And it’s not just foreign labor that’s rejecting positions in China; many of the country’s home-grown elite¬†are eying greener pastures and bluer skies abroad.

China’s leadership has already declared war on smog, and it’d have enough reason to do so just based on the material and health care costs imposed by pollution. But the ability to attract and retain quality workers, both from abroad and at home, makes this one of the country’s top priorities going forward.

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