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Facing brain drain, Hong Kong plans $3.8 billion ‘trawl’ for global talent

<i>Paul Yeung/Bloomberg/Getty Images</i><br/>Facing brain drain
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Paul Yeung/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Facing brain drain

By Michelle Toh, CNN Business

Hong Kong wants international firms to know it means business.

The city’s leader, Chief Executive John Lee, announced Wednesday that the government would earmark 30 billion Hong Kong dollars ($3.8 billion) for a new fund aimed at bringing more businesses in.

The fund will seek to attract companies to set up operations in Hong Kong, as well as invest in their businesses, he said in a wide-ranging policy address.

The move comes after the city witnessed a massive exodus amid some of the world’s strictest pandemic controls, which were recently eased after more than two years. In August, Hong Kong logged its biggest population drop since officials began keeping track of such figures in 1961.

Lee addressed the record decline on Wednesday, noting: “Over the past two years, the local workforce shrank by about 140,000.”

“Apart from actively nurturing and retaining local talents, the government will proactively trawl the world for talents,” the chief executive added.

Lee also announced Wednesday the launch of an initiative aimed at attracting more workers, including select high earners and graduates from the world’s top 100 universities.

Eligible candidates “will be issued a two-year pass for exploring opportunities in Hong Kong,” he said.

That should come as welcome relief for businesses in Hong Kong, which had long warned of a brain drain.

Before the recent removal of quarantine measures, many workers had expressed frustration over the city’s onerous travel restrictions, which at one point required up to 21 days of hotel quarantine.

The measures damaged the city’s economy, and led many multinational companies and expatriates to shift — or consider moving — elsewhere.

Hong Kong is the Asian base for many multinational companies, including top banks and financial firms. The former British colony has traditionally been seen as a friendly international gateway to mainland China.

In recent years, its reputation for openness and ease of doing business have fallen, while rival hub Singapore raced ahead.

Hong Kong is working to change that perception, by stepping up efforts to rebuild its status as a global business and financial hub.

Next month, the city’s officials will welcome some of Wall Street’s top executives for a long-awaited financial summit. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters, and HSBC CEO Noel Quinn are among those slated to attend.

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