Another major Indian IT firm has put its stamp on Alpharetta, announcing a 100-job expansion Thursday that will bring its total headcount in the north metro technology hub to 600 people.
Tech Mahindra, a $4 billion-plus outsourcing and tech giant that is part of the massive Mahindra & Mahindra conglomerate, announced its plans during a ceremony in its unfinished new office space, with folding chairs set up on a concrete expanse on the sixth floor.
In a coup for Atlanta, Tech Mahindra’s gregarious global CEO made a rare trip to reinforce the importance of the investment and mark the Mahindra group’s founder’s day, which is celebrated each Oct. 2.
Chief Executive C.P. Gurnani, immediate past chairman of Indian national software society NASSCOM, praised Alpharetta for creating a hospitable environment for his workers, so much so that some local Indians have affectionately dubbed the city “Alphapuram,” a play on a common suffix for Indian towns.
David Belle Isle, mayor of Alpharetta and a candidate for Georgia secretary of state, said Indian tech giants have been part of a decade-long effort to brand the city as a tech hub.
Formally known for nondescript office buildings hidden behind trees, the city’s tech industry is now front and center. Some 640 tech companies have created some 12,000 jobs over the last five years, he said.
“Today, Tech Mahindra becomes part of that story as well,” Mr. Belle Isle said.
“We don’t want to import people to solve our customer problems.” -CP Gurnani
In an interview with Global Atlanta, Mr. Gurnani said the Atlanta area, with its prominent universities, is a “fountainhead” of human capital that continues to make it a great location for the company, especially as customers and tech partners move here.
“(The investment) only tells you that I am constantly expanding my base and content, and like every business has got its own fuel, my fuel is people,” he said.
But he was clear that the rapid growth and change across the global technology landscape, coupled with a general shortage of programmers in the U.S., means Tech Mahindra will likely have to bring in talent from around its global system, whether from Italy, Ireland or India, he said.
“There will not be enough skills available. The reality of today’s world is that in science, technology and media, there is no way that there are enough skills available, because the rate of refresh is very hard and it is fast,” he said.
Indian outsourcing firms are heavy users of the H-1B visa category for skilled foreign workers in the U.S., but many have cut back since the program was put in crosshairs of the Trump administration earlier this year.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order to review the process in April, and he has advocated for a merit-based immigration system that he believes would protect American jobs and salaries. Some Indian companies like Infosys have responded announcing moves to hire more Americans and ramp up training efforts in partnership with local universities and high schools.
Mr. Trump has joined critics who have argued that tech companies use the visas, capped at a quota of 85,000 a year, to undercut American workers’ salaries. Proponents of the visa say they can’t find the workers in the first place.
It’s a conundrum for both the employers and city and state leaders who aim to recruit more jobs. Indian companies have hired thousands across the U.S. as they have moved up the value chain, and they also have trained many American tech workers.
For its part, NASSCOM has said that between 2011-15 Indian IT companies directly and indirectly supported 400,000 jobs in the U.S., made over $2 billion worth of investments and paid $20 billion in U.S. taxes. Wipro, Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra and NIIT all have a presence in metro Atlanta.
“These are our shining symbols, and they inspire other companies in India to come to the United States,” Nagesh Singh, consul general of India in Atlanta, said in brief remarks praising the health of the U.S.-India relationship on multiple fronts.
But their rapid expansion has also necessitated more imported talent, especially as customers have begun to value speed of delivery — and proximity of the worker — more than price.
“You need to have speed, quality and cost, all three working together,” Mr. Gurnani said.
So far, Mr. Gurnani said, not much has changed on the immigration front. He believes Mr. Trump’s proposed shifts are “purely noise” and that cooler heads will prevail. Just last week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reinstated a “fast-track” option that lets companies pay more to have a guaranteed review of their H-1B petition in 15 days.
Technology, Mr. Gurnani said, is undergoing a tectonic shift with the emergence of the Internet of Things in manufacturing, the growing need for cybersecurity and demands for the integration of artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Those trends require openness to the best talent globally.
“The U.S. has to be competitive in today’s world, which is a digital world, a disruptive world, which is about design thinking, about new products and new cycles,” he told Global Atlanta.
He likened shifts in IT to changes in manufacturing, which has seen the deployment of more and more automation, requiring a higher baseline skill set for workers.
Mahindra sets itself apart from similar Indian “systems integrators” by its engineering and design capabilities, as well as its relative strength in media and telecommunications, he said.
From Atlanta, Mahindra is working throughout the Western Hemisphere, but it’s also planning to target key sectors locally beyond its traditional strengths. Manufacturing will be a core focus, followed later by cybersecurity and financial technology.
If Alpharetta is fortunate, those challenges will be tackled by locals, Indian or otherwise.
“There is so much change that is happening, and I think we want to participate in that change,” Mr. Gurnani said in his final remarks to employees and supporters, including Mr. Belle Isle, the Alpharetta mayor.
“Mayor, we want your support on skills development, because we don’t want to import people to solve our customer problems.”
Mr. Gurnani’s audience consisted mostly of men of Indian descent.