Reading Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's speech about the need for foreign talent, I was reminded of the book, Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida.
Singapore is not alone in trying to attract talent from outside. Florida writes how the new technology, far from levelling the playing field, is concentrating talent in the world's leading megacities as skilled professionals go where the opportunities and amenities are best.
Singapore is mentioned among the Asian megacities and praised for its amenities and talent pool. But it has a smaller population than the others, such as Tokyo and Hong Kong. Every time I travel on the subway, I feel Singapore is already bursting at its seams, but a population of 4.8 million is small compared with megacities like New York, London and Tokyo. And Singapore is trying to compete with them.
Florida — who also has his own blog, Creative Class.com — shows how other cities are linking up to form what he calls mega-regions. Thus, for example, from Buffalo in upstate New York to Toronto in Canada extends a mega-region, he writes. He realized that flying at night when bright lights blazed all over the region, showing it was a big populated area full of commercial activity. A great city is visible from the air even at night when you can see lights blazing for miles and miles.
Florida writes about other mega-regions besides Buffalo-Rochester-and-Toronto. He says the East Coast belt extending from Boston to New York City to Washington, DC, is the world's second largest mega-region in terms of economic output – only Greater Tokyo is bigger. Other US mega-regions include the stretch from Atlanta, Georgia, to Charlotte, North Carolina, southern Florida covering Miami, Orlando and Tampa, southern California from Los Angeles to San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico, and the San Francisco Bay area. Each generates hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output. The Boston-New York-Washington belt generates $2.2 trillion.
Florida identifies similar Asian mega-regions: Greater Tokyo, Osaka-Nagasaki, Seoul-Busan.
And that reminded me of Singapore's other handicap. Not only is it home to a relatively small population – it also has no hinterland.
That Singapore nevertheless ranks among the world's megacities speaks volumes about its talent and enterprise.
But not all that talent is homegrown. The BBC World Service recently broadcast interviews with the Theatreworks' Ong Keng Sen, who is participating in the Edinburgh International Festival, and Sunny Verghese, CEO of Olam International, the Singapore company that has become the world's largest supplier of cashew and robusta coffee and one of the biggest suppliers of cocoa, rice and spices. And Verghese is an Indian. Listen to Verghese speaking to Peter Day and Ong Keng Sen's interview on the BBC's Strand arts programme.