US mobility: where’s it heading?

Relocate Global explores hot topics in US global mobility with the chairman of the Worldwide ERC board.

US mobility where is it heading?

See more features about global mobility in the US in the Autumn 2016 issue of Relocate magazine on our Digital Issues page.

Worldwide ERC’s (WERC) 2016 Global Workforce Symposium takes place in Washington DC from 5 to 7 October. In the run-up to the conference, Dale Collins, chief innovation officer of Graebel Relocation Services Worldwide and 2016 chairman of the Worldwide ERC board, shared his views on the big-picture issues for mobility in the US, both inbound and outbound, with Fiona Murchie, managing editor of Relocate Global.FM: We would welcome your perspective on relocation trends and what is impacting the market. DC: Despite comparatively sluggish economies in key markets, global economic integration is increasing, as companies seek new markets to drive growth. Growth is an imperative for companies and brands, and, to grow, you must have a meaningful presence in the largest developing economies, like China, India and Brazil.The global search for growth opportunities and talent is continuing to drive mobility, even in the face of macroeconomic headwinds. At the same time, global companies based in the developing world are looking to tap markets in developed economies like the US, the UK and Europe, and that requires talented executives on the ground. So, while talent historically has migrated primarily from developed to developing nations, we’re seeing increasing traffic moving in the opposite direction, too.The major sectors for relocation haven’t changed. The most active, from a mobility standpoint, continue to be financial services, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. The technology sector also is a major driver, but ironically, advances in technology make it easier to do business globally without moving people. At the same time, companies with the most advanced global mobility programmes believe there is no substitute for being there, when it comes to developing new markets, building relationships and leading people. Overall, especially in the US and the EU, we see the underpinnings of a global economy – the free movement of people across borders, free trade agreements, harmonised tax regimes – coming under an increasing amount of scrutiny. This raises the stakes for companies whose growth plans depend on mobility, and it’s our responsibility at Graebel to support our clients by staying on top of the details. 

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FM: US economic growth is weaker than expected for 2016, though recent press coverage indicates that the last quarter was promising. What does this mean for inbound relocation and domestic relocation, and for US companies seeking new markets overseas? Are employment and talent shortages an issue for Graebel and its clients? DC: Economic growth generally acts as a stimulus to relocation, domestically and overseas. When the economy is growing, companies are more focused on how to create new markets, capture market share, and innovate for growth, and are less focused on reducing spend across all categories, including mobility.At the same time, companies in search of growth need to tap new markets, so they can’t afford not to continue talent mobility programmes.What we’re seeing is companies trying to do more with less, to manage spend while getting the greatest return on investment. That means an increased focus on mobility policies and programme management, and more interest in best practices.FM: We know that the US is the single largest investor in the UK, and that many US companies regard the UK as the gateway to trading with other EU member states. How will the UK’s planned exit from the EU affect US businesses and the wider US economy?  DC: It’s far too early to tell what impact Brexit will have. The UK and EU potentially have as much as two years of negotiation ahead of them as they decouple. And this disengagement isn’t happening in a vacuum – there are other dynamics at play within the EU. There could be further disruptions.Uncertainty tends to hinder corporate decisions on growth and investment strategy, as leaders take a wait-and-see attitude. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, with the US presidential election playing a destabilising role as well. At the same time, uncertainty and dynamic change, like Brexit, heightens the need for thoughtful talent management planning and strategy, with flexible mobility programmes that can be adjusted or redirected as circumstances evolve.The best substitute for a crystal ball is the ability to foresee a range of policy outcomes that impact mobility, and to have a game plan for each.FM: We would value your comments on the housing situation for inbound moves to the US, and for domestic moves.  DC: A stronger dollar obviously makes inbound moves to the US more costly for companies in the UK and Europe, but they really don’t have any choice.Across virtually every industry sector, the US market simply is so huge that international companies cannot opt out, even in the face of less-favourable exchange rates. Currency-driven costs for mobility are a rounding error compared with the opportunity cost of a diminished presence in the world’s largest economy.For inbound moves to the US, the housing cost calculus is similar to currency impacts. Even if housing costs are on the rise in key US cities, the question is can you afford not to be here?Within the US, housing costs definitely impact investment and mobility decisions. I’ll give you two examples from Colorado, where Graebel is based. Charles Schwab has built a 47-acre campus in south suburban Denver that ultimately will employ 4,000 people – more than three times as many as its San Francisco headquarters, where housing costs are through the roof.Google is building a new campus in Boulder, with plans for up to 1,500 employees. Housing in Boulder is not cheap, but Boulder and nearby towns are much more affordable than Mountain View and surrounding communities in Silicon Valley.

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