The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is seeking partnerships from Georgia in technology and beyond as its government embarks on an ambitious economic expansion plan.
Nara Lokesh, cabinet minister for information technology, brought an eight-person delegation to Atlanta Feb, 2 in search of tie-ups as the tech-savvy state seeks to jumpstart development.
With senior members of his staff in tow, Mr. Lokesh pitched an audience of business leaders during a U.S. tour that made a stop at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter.
An elected legislator, Mr. Lokesh also happens to be the son of the state’s Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu — whose position is similar to that of a state governor in the U.S.
Andhra Pradesh, a narrow state along India’s southeastern coastline, has long been known as a technology hub in southern India. But the state lost its crown jewel of the IT sector in 2014, when the capital city, Hyderabad, was carved out to become part of the newly formed state of Telangana.
In one fell swoop, Andhra Pradesh lost 35 million of its 85 million people and suddenly became the state with the lowest per capita income in India, Mr. Lokesh said during his presentation at the consulate.
But the 35-year-old IT minister, who worked at the World Bank after earning a degree from Carnegie-Mellon University and an MBA from Stanford University, framed this as an opportunity for Georgia firms to get in on the ground floor in a place with massive upside potential. Manufacturing only accounts for 11 percent of the state’s economy, lower than the Indian average of 16 percent. And farming still generates two-thirds of employment, he said.
“That’s where we started, but like any startup, we are fast. We are a child,” he told the Atlanta audience.
The chief minister, Mr. Lokesh’s father, has announced plans to break into the top three states for per capita income by 2022, growing to No. 1 by 2029.
“To achieve these we need to grow at a rate of about 15 percent a year. The state of Andhra Pradesh is actually growing at about 12 percent. We are double India’s growth rate,” Mr. Lokesh said.
Mr. Lokesh framed his father as the man for the job, a “serial entrepreneur” when it comes to building industry clusters in cities. His first project was fashioning Hyderabad into an IT powerhouse.
Now, Andhra is working on India’s first “greenfield” capital since the 1950s, Amaravati, which is master planned by Singapore with input on its canal systems from the Netherlands. The land was acquired by pooling plots from farmers who gave up 35,000 acres in exchange for 40 percent of the developed land in return, Mr. Lokesh said.
With 500,000 inhabitants expected to move in by 2024, Amaravati should have all the bells and whistles that a “smart city” should, Mr. Lokesh said.
Already, Andhra has made strides in using technology to improve governance. The state is one of the few that has gone paperless in its offices, and it has equipped its rivers with sensors that generate data to help farms optimize water usage depending on rain patterns. Poised for a future of big data and machine learning, the state has an operations center that collects data from nearly 1 million Internet-connected devices. Blockchain is being used for land registries.
These efficiencies, and a mindset of productivity, are passed on to investors, Mr. Lokesh said, noting that the state guarantees foreigners can set up a new company within 21 days (with the caveat that it might take 15 more if land grants are involved.)
As an example, he noted a massive investor that Andhra Pradesh and Georgia share: Kia Motors. The Korean auto maker went from signing an agreement to the first car rolling off the billion-dollar plant’s assembly line in just 15 months, he said.
“We’re very transparent, we’re very proactive,” Mr. Lokesh said. “We deliver our incentives. It’s not just talk.”
Mr. Lokesh, whose grandfather was also a chief minister, sits along with his wife on the board of trustees for the NTR Trust, a nonprofit that aims to improve access to health care, develop the state’s human capital and provide relief in natural disasters.
His pitch was followed up by a dialogue with the crowd that covered questions on the political continuity of pro-business reforms, possible cybersecurity collaborations and much more. Education, he said, is an important goal of the state in order to prepare the workforce for a wave of investment.
“We are hungry for business,” he said.
C.N. Madhusudan, CEO of Atlanta-based Vector Span, outlined the landscape in Atlanta for the IT minister.
The audience included representatives from health care companies, universities, artificial intelligence firms and a venture capital firm that all expressed interest in setting up shop in Andhra Pradesh, according to the Consulate General of India, which hosted Mr. Lokesh and provided closing remarks.
Watch the entire program here: