Hunt for talent will be a testing one for Hong Kong
Shenzhen has the incentives to offer the right people when it comes to technology and innovation, so Hong Kong may have to find other ways to compete
Technological competitiveness is key to economic visions for Hong Kong. We do not have to look far for evidence of its importance – the 9 per cent economic growth posted last year by Shenzhen, China’s foremost technology hub. As plans take shape to link Hong Kong and Macau with nine mainland cities, including Shenzhen, in an integrated regional economic and business hub known as the “Greater Bay Area”, we have had a timely reminder that our city will still be in fierce competition with these cross-border partners.
It comes from the opening of applications for schemes to help start-ups hire PhD holders and train staff, which will boost efforts to nurture technology and innovation. Under the postdoctoral hub scheme, companies either funded by the government or operating from one of the city’s two major innovation centres can hire up to two people with a doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering or maths, with each to receive a monthly allowance on top of any salary of HK$32,000 for up to two years. Under the Reindustrialisation and Technology Training Programme, the government will subsidise private companies by up to HK$500,000 a year to train staff resident in Hong Kong in advanced technologies.
Last October, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said local start-ups faced strong competition for talent from mainland cities. That is an understatement, especially as far as Shenzhen is concerned. The city offers one-off subsidies ranging from 800,000 yuan (HK$920,000) to 1.5 million yuan, as well as family-friendly packages including education, rental allowances and subsidised medical care that sound like traditional Hong Kong expat packages. And that does not include decent housing that could well be unaffordable at Hong Kong prices. It seems that no matter how much Hong Kong offers these talents, Shenzhen will seem more attractive.
Since the Greater Bay Area concept is supposed to be about cooperation, it may seem futile to compete, but it comes down to each city identifying its own competitive edge as a basis for that cooperation. Hong Kong’s bid to attract and nurture technological talent is a step towards fulfilment of a competitive vision. But the city should draw on its ample reserves if need be to be more creative and find other ways to compete for talent.