At the Jan. 26 Republic Day event, Consul General Swati Kulkarni officially bestows the prestigious Padma Bhushan award on Emory University scholar Jagdish Sheth in a ceremony delayed by the pandemic. Photo by Trevor Williams

A new snapshot of India’s trade and investment ties with the Southeast U.S. show that Georgia is easily the country’s largest partner in the region, especially when it comes to the technology services sector.  

Commissioned by the Consulate General of India in Atlanta, the compendium tracks data from across the six states in the consulate’s territory, a region where it has placed heavy emphasis since opening India’s “youngest” consulate in 2012.  

In terms of capital stock, Georgia has seen more than $11 billion in investment from Indian-owned firms, a number that far outpaces other states in the region but is skewed by a few large acquisitions.  

Making up a significant proportion of the total is Atlanta-based Novelis Inc., the aluminum giant purchased by Hindalco, a subsidiary of Mumbai-based Aditya Birla Group, for $2.6 billion back in 2007. Another big move was Birla Carbon’s purchase of Atlanta-based Columbian Chemical, a top supplier of carbon black, for $875 million, another deal that is more than a decade old. A bit more recently, Jindal Films invested $180 million to buy a plant in LaGrange in 2015.  

While still paying dividends in terms of job creation and R&D investment in the state, the age of these deals calls into question their usefulness as a yardstick for measuring the current vitality of India-Southeast business ties.  

Indeed, some of the most recent successes on the industrial investments in the South have gone to states like South Carolina which has an investment office in Delhi. Consul General Swati Kulkarni has held that outpost up as an example of why states like Georgia and perhaps Mississippi should be considering their own offices in the country.  

Ms. Kulkarni delved into the highlights of the report during a speech at the consulate’s annual Republic Day celebration, this year held once again in person at the City Springs government complex in Sandy Springs Jan. 26.  

She provided a broad survey of India’s strides in vaccinations other health measures during the COVID-19 era, as well as efforts to improve digital governance, financial inclusion and the ease of doing business. She also pointed to breakneck growth in the country’s tech and startup sectors as venture capital has poured in amid the pandemic. 

“There was a record jump on the startup front. From 3,000 startups in 2014, their numbers have crossed 60,000 today. From three to four unicorns seven years ago, there are 80 unicorns today, the third largest in the world, of which more than 40 were formed in 2021,” she said.  

Georgia has been a major beneficiary of India’s first wave of outbound growth in technology, software and business-process outsourcing. About a decade ago, giant Indian tech firms like Infosys, Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services and TechMahindra, started setting up local development centers to be close to customers in the U.S. market — bolstered by partnerships back home with multinationals that in turn made them global players. 

According to the report, Georgia has seen $851 million in service-sector investment from Indian firms, 74 percent of the South’s FDI stock, while hosting 51 out of the 99 firms catalogued.  

Cumulatively, companies like those listed above as well as HCL Larsen & Toubro Infotech, NIIT Technologies and many others have created more than 3,750 jobs within the state. Wipro and Tata alone accounted for more than 1,500 jobs and $50 million in capital investment in Georgia alone. 

Georgia also seems to lead by a metric that is harder metric to track: outbound investment by Southeast U.S. firms headed to India. The authors of the report, Mumbai-based accounting firm KNAV, which has an Atlanta office, say there is no centralized databased where investments are broken out at the state level.  

But the rudimentary data they did collect, mostly anecdotal and based on news reports, 50 Georgia companies have invested in India. The closest competitor is Florida with 39.  

Himanshu Godara, a partner in KNAV’s Mumbai office, told Global Atlanta that India is seeing a new wave of foreign investment that is penetrating deeper into the country and has been driven by more companies from the non-English-speaking world.  

And while many are still setting up offshore development centers, the pool of strategic sectors has widened for India amid turbulence in its relationship with China and pandemic-related supply chain issues.  

Both have poured fuel on existing initiatives like Make in India, the Modi government’s manufacturing push, and have made both the central government and the states more generous with incentives in industries like semiconductors, electronics, medical devices and much more. 

That’s the sign of a maturing investment ecosystem in a country with the stated goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy, up from $3 trillion today, by 2025, a tall order but possible given India’s quick growth rates. India has already achieved its 2025 renewable energy targets, and it is working to play a bigger role in vehicle electrification as a nation of “early adopters.” 

“When these companies are coming into into India, they are also bring their knowhow, their best practices, and on top of it, Indian multinationals are equipped with capital and are investing in people,” Mr. Godara said. “We are going in the right direction.”  

Dr. Kulkarni, the consul general, also outlined her achievements in reaching out to politicians during her tenure, having “met with over 60 Congress persons, eight senators, seven governors about 30 presumptive House and Senate candidates at the federal and state level — and more than 20 mayors of various cities.”

She is expected to take up a new post sometime this summer, paving the way what will be India’s fourth consul general in Atlanta.

Learn more about the consulate here.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...