The Liechtenstein economy supports almost as many workers as the countrys total number of inhabitants. For this reason, the manufacturing and financial centre is dependent on the supply of qualified employees from neighbouring countries. Almost 20,000 people commute every day from Switzerland, Austria and Germany to work in Liechtenstein.
Liechtensteins labour market statistics are certainly impressive. According to the latest figures from the Office of Statistics, 36,680 people work in Liechtenstein, while the permanent population is 37,706 this means the active workforce amounts to no less than 98.2 percent of the population. On an international comparison, Liechtenstein leads the field by a sizeable margin, ahead of Luxembourg (70.2 percent), Switzerland (59.7 percent), Germany 52.6 percent) and Austria (47.9 percent). As a centre of employment and finance, Liechtenstein offers not just the domestic population a great many opportunities to find work in the widest possible variety of professions, it is also an important business centre for the entire region. No less than 10,500 workers commute every day from Switzerland, and over 8,200 from Austria, to earn their living in Liechtenstein. Around 600 people even commute all the way from Germany.
One of the reasons for the large number of international commuters is the fact that the country is reluctant to issue residence permits. After all, land is in short supply. As a consequence, many EU citizens from Germany or Italy find places to live in regions close to Liechtenstein, and are then able to work in the Principality. Companies in Liechtenstein also profit from this arrangement. After all, they would find themselves in great difficulties if they were not able to recruit qualified workers in neighbouring countries. More than half of those who work in Liechtenstein commute across the border every day in order to work here, says Christian Hausmann, Head of the Liechtenstein Office of Economic Affairs. In view of these numbers, it goes without saying that international commuters are extremely important for the local business community.
Before Liechtenstein made the transition from an impoverished agrarian state to a modern business centre, it was local citizens who often crossed the border to Austria or Switzerland in search of work. Since the end of the Second World War, however, the economy in Liechtenstein has enjoyed phenomenal growth. Over the past 20 years, gross domestic product has doubled to the current figure of CHF 5.3 billion. It is not merely the cosmopolitan financial sector that has been responsible for this. In fact, over 40 percent of people employed in Liechtenstein work in the industrial or commercial sectors an impressively high proportion in comparison to other states in Central Europe. The approximately 4,300 companies domiciled in Liechtenstein include illustrious names such as the construction technology group Hilti, the automotive component supplier ThyssenKrupp Presta, and the industrial conglomerate Oerlikon Balzers. They are amongst the ten largest companies in Liechtenstein, which collectively account for around one quarter of all jobs in the Principality. In addition to these, however, there are also numerous small and medium-sized enterprises, which are often highly specialised, amongst the best in the world in their particular fields, and for which it is quite simply pleasant to work. According to Christian Hausmann, this is one of the factors that make it so attractive to do business in Liechtenstein. Of course, wages are high. But we also have many high-tech industrial enterprises in which specialists can realise their full potential in their particular field.
In view of the high wage levels, being amongst the best is the only effective growth and survival strategy for Liechtenstein companies. Businesses in Liechtenstein have always defined themselves with their products through quality and technology leadership, never through cost leadership, says Hausmann. For this reason, it will remain crucial to nurture good relations with neighbouring countries; porous borders mean a steady supply of qualified workers will be able to go about thier work in Liechtenstein.
Text: Stefan Lenherr