Switzerland runs like clockwork, but it needs workers

Switzerland has done it again. For the seventh year in a row it is officially the world's most competitive country, according to the annual World Economic Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the end of September.

It's tough to dispute the Alpine country's high ranking when considering the topnotch grades it racks up in the different subcategories.

Switzerland ranks number one in the world in labor market efficiency, business sophistication and innovation and holds top 10 spots for macroeconomic environment, infrastructure, higher education, technological readiness and so on. The list is endless and it's quite impressive.

Having lived in Switzerland for more than six years and enjoyed the country's higher education, the labor market, infrastructure and healthcare– would I grade the country 10 out of 10? On a technical levels – yes. Things do really work like Swiss clockwork in that country, compared the U.K. and even Germany.

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Gianluca Colla | Bloomberg | Getty Images

But the last two years have made Switzerland's top competitiveness spot a little more contentious. Most famously, the Swiss voted in a referendum in 2014 to back quotas on foreigners entering the country, pitting it against the European idea of free movement of labor, along with the movement of goods, services and capital in the Europe.

Negotiations are currently under way between officials in Brussels and Bern over those ideals, and I'm not sure chocolate and cheese diplomacy will work here. This is a serious break from the European idea, although granted – Switzerland never wanted to be part of the EU and has kept its own (painstakingly strong) currency. Cherry-picking is an unwelcome concept in Europe, however.

Switzerland does boast various companies in the prestigious list of the world's biggest companies by market capitalization. According to PwC pharmaceutical giant Novartis ranks 10th in the world. with a market cap of $267 billion, followed by consumer giant Nestle taking the 14th spot with $243 billion and Roche at number 16 with $237 billion in market value.

These are companies that have over the decades pledged their allegiance to Switzerland as a great place to do business – despite the strong Swiss franc.

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The argument I hear from chief executives whenever I ask them about moving their headquarters away from the Alpine economy is always the same: Switzerland boasts a first-class talent pool, its taxes are very advantageous and its research and development environment is top notch. No doubt about that.

But what Switzerland in its abundance of wealth and job opportunities should not forget is that this competitiveness is predicated on the easy access to labor. Switzerland with its eight million people is too small to provide all the engineers and researchers needed to fill the thousands of jobs.

With this in mind, I would tell Switzerland: Don't close yourself to the rest of Europe, but embrace its opportunities. You need Europe as a trading partner, you need the European talent pool, you need a continued access to capital to fund the companies' growth. After all, had it not been for a German immigrant in the 1840s searching for his entrepreneurial luck on the shores of Lake Geneva, the consumer behemoth better known as Nestle would not exist in its current form. And we would not be enjoying as much of its good chocolate.

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