HBS Survey Reveals Decreasing U.S. Competitiveness in Global Economy

A survey of nearly 10,000 Harvard Business School alumni revealed a stark lack of confidence in America’s competitiveness in the global economy.

According to the survey, conducted by two HBS professors, 66 percent of the HBS alumni polled believe that the U.S. is falling behind emerging markets, while just 8 percent see it advancing.

HBS Dean Nitin Nohria and professors Michael E. Porter and Jan W. Rivkin, who led the survey, presented the findings at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Respondents came from 49 states and 121 foreign countries, and more than a quarter of the alumni said that they hold a senior leadership position.

The survey asked whether these business leaders had been personally involved in relocation decisions within the past year. Of 1,767 alumni who had faced such situations, 57 percent were debating whether to move their business activities out of the U.S. Just 9 percent were mulling a relocation into the U.S.

The most common offshore locations considered were China, which 42 percent of those alumni said they had considered, and India, which 38 percent said they had considered. Brazil, Mexico, and Singapore were also frequently considered as new business destinations.

“The U.S. is losing out on business location decisions at an alarming rate,” Porter said in a press release. “However, the U.S. retains its core strengths in a number of important areas such as university education, innovation, and entrepreneurship, which means that we have the resources to reverse this trend.”

Respondents cited government regulation and taxes, as well as the cost of hiring workers in America and concerns about immigration issues, as factors that hindered their firms from creating jobs stateside.

“One of the most important aspects of this survey was its effort to pinpoint the roots of the country’s competitiveness problem,” Rivkin said in the press release. “This provides important insight for leaders who are seeking ways to boost America’s long-run prosperity.”

In a summary of the survey's results which was released online, Porter and Rivkin wrote, “A fundamentally weakened U.S. economy is not only an American problem but a global risk.”

Their survey is part of the Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Project. Its results will be published in the Harvard Business Review in March along with data gathered by other researchers involved in the initiative who are analyzing factors that affect the nation’s competitive standing internationally.

—Staff writer Brian C. Zhang can be reached at brianzhang@college.harvard.edu.

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