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Singapore as innovative economy should fight for talent and not compete on costs: panellists

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In a global economy where digital innovation erodes geographical boundaries, Singapore cannot compete with other economies on the basis of cost, but on how attractive it is to quality talent and ideas.

IN a global economy where digital innovation erodes geographical boundaries, Singapore cannot compete with other economies on the basis of cost, but on how attractive it is to quality talent and ideas.

This comes as a majority of the more than 300 attendees at The Business Times Leaders' Forum 2016 felt that Singapore needs to strengthen its ecosystem for innovation even more.

"These people can be billion-dollar producers," said Nick Nash, group president of Garena, at the forum. "The critical thing here is not to find the lowest-cost manufacturer; the critical thing is to find these individuals and bring them to our country where they can be economically productive."

Mr Nash was speaking as a panellist in the first discussion at the forum on Tuesday morning. Over an hour, Mr Nash, together with Minister of Industry S Iswaran, chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research Lim Chuan Poh and chief executive officer for Standard Chartered in Singapore Judy Hsu, talked at length about what the future ecosystem in Singapore should be like. StanChart is the presenting sponsor of the forum.

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The panellists' comments come as the latest count of a poll conducted on-site saw close to three-quarters of respondents as saying that Singapore's ecosystem for innovation is only "so-so" in terms of strength, and that the country needs to work more on it. About 18 per cent say that it can compete with the best, while about 8 per cent sees it as below par.

A view echoed by the panellists was that the Singapore economy needs to remain open so that it can continually attract the brightest minds.

"Where are the greatest innovations coming today? They are not coming from places known for their low cost, they are known for their high skills and high liveability factors," said Mr Iswaran.

This openness is not only restricted to attracting talent, but also having a good mix of companies here to keep the economy vibrant, noted Mr Lim. "The presence of large anchor companies in any industry is important. We should be quite agnostic as to whether they are multi-national corporations or large local enterprises. They can build deep, meaningful collaborations within the industry," he added.

It also entails having locals to work overseas, as they can then bring back these experiences to Singapore.

"The world is becoming a lot smaller. Banks like us have a presence in several countries, and Singapore is a hub. To be culturally aware is to be able to communicate and understand their needs, and that's very important for us," said Ms Hsu.

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