Business Location Under Examination: Zurich's Potential is Significant

How attractive is the canton of Zurich as a business location? This was discussed by stakeholders from business, science, politics and administration on “Location Day”. They all agreed that many things are going very well. However, there was no shortage of ideas as to what the canton could do better.

In January 2024, the cantonal Office for Economy (AWI) published the study «Attractiveness of the Canton of Zurich for Business and Talent – A Comparison 2024». In it, the business center of Zurich competes with its five "rivals" Munich, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Dublin and London. It was now time to discuss the study findings with as many key players from industry, research, administration and politics as possible - on the first «Location Day». Fabian Streiff, Head of the Office for Economy, began by explaining how well the Canton of Zurich performs in international comparison. However, his aim is "not only to become better than the competition every day, but also to become better than we were the day before." According to Streiff, Zurich has developed into an attractive business location for innovative and technology-driven companies in recent decades. At the same time, he admitted: "We are lagging behind other locations in terms of costs."

Utilizing Domestic Potential

The Office for Economy was not only interested in comparing Zurich with five foreign cities, but also in listening to their views. Christoph Haider, for example, was a guest from Munich - a city that has more difficulty recruiting skilled workers than Zurich. "Due to the ageing population, we are dependent on immigration throughout Germany," said the Head of Location Marketing Munich.

Promoting dialog, developing visions

The first "Location Day" took place in Zurich on January 31, 2024. It was organized by the Office for Economy (AWI) of the Department for Economic Affairs. Major Zurich players from industry, the healthcare sector, research and politics discussed development issues together with the Zurich cantonal government. The aim of the event was to promote dialog, develop visions and actions for Zurich as a business location and provide impetus for the benefit of all. AWI Director Fabian Streiff stated: "The shortage of skilled workers is just as real here." Because other European countries are also deliberately recruiting abroad, domestic potential must be used as effectively as possible. The shortage of skilled workers was discussed intensively: It was one of the main topics in the subsequent panel discussion on how Zurich should remain an attractive location for business and innovation. Economic Director Carmen Walker Späh summed it up succinctly: "If you want to work, you have to let people work!"

Should the State Support Start-ups?

Panelist Marc von Waldkirch, CEO of sensor manufacturer Sensirion, placed particular responsibility on politicians to stem the staff shortage: "If an application for a work permit takes three months, that's too long." Foreign specialists would not wait, but would hire in other countries. But can it go any faster? Zurich's Finance Director Ernst Stocker had some doubts: "I think everything takes even longer elsewhere." Another widely discussed topic was support for start-ups. The non-profit organization SICTIC was founded specifically for this purpose. Its president, Thomas Dübendorfer, would like to see more government support: "As soon as start-ups could really take off, there is a lack of money - or it comes from abroad." Sensirion CEO von Waldkirch, on the other hand, warned against too much support from the state: "This also involves regulation."

Healthcare System Must Become More Digital

The second panel discussion focused on Zurich as a healthcare location. The role of the public sector was once again discussed: "The canton of Zurich generally offers the best framework conditions for good basic care," said Felix Huber, President of the MediX doctors' association. "But more and more regulations are coming from the federal government. And many of them are impossible to implement." Mazda Farshad also agreed with this. The medical hospital director of Balgrist University Hospital was of the opinion that the regulations are even fueling the staff shortage to a certain extent. His credo: "More innovation and less regulation." Anything else would tend to deter foreign specialists from working in Switzerland - as would a lack of digital processes, emphasized Monika Jänicke, CEO of the University Hospital Zurich: "These could significantly reduce the workload for employees."

What Opportunities Does Artificial Intelligence Offer?

Director of the Department of Health Natalie Rickli also wants to drive forward the digitalization of the healthcare system. The canton of Zurich still has a lot of work to do in this regard: "The electronic patient file with digital interfaces must become the standard for data protection-compliant filing and the efficient exchange of patient information." All too often, doctors waste a lot of time calling around between several practices for a single patient, adds Huber. "If you counteract this, it also improves the personnel situation." Following the panel discussion, the participants of the event divided into four workshops and discussed the topics of "Technology location", "Location for skilled workers", "Business location" and "Mobility and sustainability" in depth. To what extent does artificial intelligence make Zurich a more attractive location and, above all, what impact does it have on the world of work, including from an ethical perspective? Or: How can the canton of Zurich compete with more tax-efficient locations? These and other questions sparked lively discussions.

"Let's Use Our Potential"

It was clear that despite its good starting position, the canton of Zurich is facing major challenges - particularly in terms of sustainability and digitalization. The most interesting solutions from the workshops are now being followed up and explored in greater depth by specialist groups. Before the networking aperitif was opened, Carmen Walker Späh, member of the cantonal government, addressed the guests. Thanks to the location attractiveness study, we now know where Zurich stands as a business location, she said. Now it is important to learn the right lessons. The Director for Economic Affairs would definitely welcome a second "Location Day": "To see what progress we have made. Let's use the potential we have."

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