BEIJING, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- A new battleground has emerged as China's second-tier cities vie for talent with generous incentives ranging from subsidies for house rentals to free trips to a panda center.
When 39-year-old Jiang Tao was starting as an entrepreneur in China, nearly all of China's powerful economic zones tried to recruit him.
Hangzhou's preferential policies and attitude toward talent ultimately drew Jiang, who received his doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia, to the eastern Chinese city.
"I chose Hangzhou because the city's support for start-up entrepreneurs was more than I expected," said Jiang, who leads a team of young talent in developing biomaterial for bone regeneration.
His firm was qualified to obtain 5 million yuan (around 750,000 U.S. dollars) in start-up funds for setting up its headquarters in Hangzhou, host city of the 2016 G20 summit and home to e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Jiang has based his business in Binjiang District, which offered him 1 million yuan of start-up funds, an exemption on office rental fees for three years, and a subsidy of up to 10 million yuan for R&D expenditures.
In order to lure professionals from first-tier cities, second-tier cities such as Hangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Changsha and Shenyang are offering incentives, including relaxed residency permits, subsidies for house and car purchases and home rentals, and cash payments.
Chengdu, capital of southwestern province of Sichuan, issued its most enticing preferential policies ever in late July to help the city retain talent.
The city will give permanent residence to graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher and promises seven days of free accommodation for graduates who come to Chengdu to look for jobs.
For talent such as high-level researchers and cultural workers in fields listed as national intangible cultural heritage, the city will award subsidies of up to 3,000 yuan per person per month for the first three years.
In addition to common incentives, Chengdu has also used its cultural symbol, the giant panda, to lure talent.
Researchers and entrepreneurs who obtain Chengdu's "talent green cards" can enjoy free visits to the city's panda breeding research base. Other benefits for card holders include a discount on public transportation, free visits to city-owned museums, free use of shared bikes, and fast-track bank services and hospital care.
Zeng Luxian, a PhD graduate of Sichuan University, just obtained permanent residence in Chengdu, 200 kilometers from her hometown of Neijiang City.
"The new policies don't mean that we can afford a house in the city, but at least they let us see the city's attitude toward young people. It wants you to stay," she said.
China's economy has entered a "new normal" featuring medium-high growth rather than fast growth, along with upgraded economic structure and innovation.
"The changes in the world's second-largest economy are pushing up demand for skilled workers," said Cai Yifei, associate researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Earlier this year, China reformed its visa policies to provide foreigners easier access to public services in the country. Back in 2008, it launched a national "Thousand Talent" recruitment program to attract academics and researchers educated abroad.
More recently, second-tier cities have launched similar campaigns to lure talent.
Shenyang, an industrial city in northeast China, plans to employ 700,000 university graduates within the next five years by offering them incentives such as permanent residence and subsidies of up to 60,000 yuan for those who buy their first house there.
"The preferential policies can increase the attractiveness of Shenyang and help it retain talent," said Li Jianguo, deputy director with Shenyang employment and talent service bureau.
The charms of the second-tier cities have caught the attention of top talent in recent years, partly because of surging living costs and skyrocketing home prices in the bigger cities.
A survey carried out by Boss Zhipin, China's online job-hunting platform, showed that around 51.8 percent of new college graduates in 2017chose to work in second-tier cities, up 7.8 percentage points year on year.
"The cutthroat battle for talent shows that Chinese cities have changed their focus from competing for investment to innovation," said Cai.
His view was echoed by Meng Qingwei, vice chairman of China Talent Research Institute, who pointed out that whether a city can attract and retain talent depends on its research and business environment.
"Financial incentives are just the first step," said Meng. "The cities should foster industries, create appealing job prospects and protect intellectual property rights to make talent stay," said Meng.