Where you live is what you breathe and the new mobile workforce

People use different factors to decide where they will live. Traditionally the first things that come to mind where; can I get a job, how much does it cost to live there, how close is my family. Because of technology, the growth of information services, and a new generation of mobile workers, a new paradigm is emerging.

Here is what global intelligence firm IDC said of the US workforce in June of 2010:

The United States has the highest percentage of mobile workers in its workforce, with 72.2% of the workforce mobile in 2008. This will grow to 75.5% by the end of the forecast period to 119.7 million mobile workers. The United States will remain the most highly concentrated market for mobile workers with three-quarters of the workforce being mobile by 2013.

This new workforce is able to look beyond pure economics and to more lifestyle and quality of life issues as they decide where to go. Where they go better have clean air, as China is now learning.

If the axiom you are what you eat is true, then so must be you are what you breath. That point was driven home in a little notice piece from the Christian Science Monitor on the massive air pollution problem in Beijing. The article explains:

Three months of shockingly bad air pollution, known to foreigners here as the “airpocalypse,” is now prompting growing numbers of expatriates and their families to leave China, and some companies to offer hazard pay to keep them here, according to executive recruiters, doctors, and business leaders.

And for the first time, they add, ambitious young Chinese executives, too, are seeking to build their careers in more hospitable cities, driven to fresher pastures by the capital’s foul air.

. . .

The past three months have seen the worst air pollution on record in Beijing. For a couple of days in January, the levels of PM 2.5 particulate matter (2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, which reaches deepest into the lungs) were 40 times higher than those categorized as safe by the World Health Organization.

On 35 days during February and March, more than every other day, the US embassy’s air pollution monitor detected levels deemed “very unhealthy,” “hazardous,” or “beyond index.”

For years, American states have been competed with one another to give the biggest tax break, have the lowest income tax, and ensure the lowest labor costs (right-to-work) to attract companies and their workforces. But what if none of it matters? What if states are trying to build their economies on a labor model that no longer exists?

We already know from years of study that right-to-work’s attraction is mixed at best. The only thing it accomplishes for certain is widening wage inequality. Tax breaks have proven to be so unsuccessful that many states are ditching them, instead focusing on home grown investment or “economic gardening” models.

As the United States moves even further into the clean energy economy (not fast enough unfortunately), information services, innovation and technology, will it matter to companies and individuals who has right-to-work laws or the lowest income tax? Or will it matter which states provide access to amazing recreation, clean air and water, and a sense of community?

Make a list of all the places you would want to live, maybe raise a family. Are any of them choked by air pollution and spoiled by foul waters? I don’t think so.

This isn’t new thinking, just a reminder to policy makers to keep thinking. As such I leave you with this astute observation by Mark Woods on Jacksonville.com from February of this year:

Low taxes. Limited regulations. Those are the keys to a state attracting and expanding business. Or are they?

Pull up the most recent list of Fortune 500 companies. Or the most valuable companies. Or the “best companies to work for.”

You’ll find many companies in Texas, but even more in California, land of high taxes and regulation. It doesn’t just have Apple and Google. It has 53 companies on the Fortune 500, including 12 in the top 100. It has three of the top four “best companies to work for.” It has two of the top 10 most valuable companies.

While some keep predicting a mass exodus from California, creating a boon for other states, Apple is busy planning a massive new campus.

And it isn’t just California. If you look at where America’s most successful companies are located, it’s interesting how many aren’t in states atop the tax climate index. Take a place like Minnesota, not exactly known for being balmy, tax or otherwise. It has one-third the population of Florida, and three more Fortune 500 companies.

This is something our leaders should ponder. Why did those companies start there? Why do they stay? In California, it isn’t just the luck of being Steve Jobs’ birthplace. Or the abundance of top universities. Or the actual climate.

This isn’t to suggest we should mimic California. But it is to suggest that while our state leaders tout a business-friendly environment, they should think about the actual environment, the importance of great education and the value of all the things that are part of a place’s quality of life.


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