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An Ode to Chennai – Home to Global Giants and Myriad Opportunities

On the 23rd and 24th of January 2019, the city of Chennai witnessed a landmark event, namely the second edition of the Tamil Nadu Global Investors Meet. Even the roads leading up to the venue wore a festive look with folk dancers performing along the sidewalks. The event itself was a grand success, thanks to the meticulous planning of the government right from February 2018, and, of course, the flawless execution. It was well attended by dignitaries from the state and Central governments, Consul Generals as well as business representatives from various parts of the globe. At the end of the two-day event, over 300 MoUs were signed, for investments of over Rs 3 lakh crore (over $42 billion).

What stood out, at least for me, were the remarkable achievements of the state of Tamil Nadu and, more so, the city of Chennai. While I have always known that this was a modest city, whose citizens never bragged about its accomplishments, I was truly astounded by the statistics shared at the conference.

Tamil Nadu has the largest number of factories in any Indian state (16%). It stands first in institutional infrastructure and governance. It boasts of the highest number of international and domestic tourist arrivals. It stands first in the annual turnout of skilled manpower in India, thanks to the scores of colleges and universities in the state (18%). It is the second largest contributor to India’s GDP (8.4%) and contributes 9.8% to India’s exports. The service sector alone contributes roughly 56% to the state’s economy.

Tamil Nadu is a leading exporter of IT, ITES from India. In terms of educational and health facilities and pollution control, the state ranks 2nd among the 29 states and 7 union territories in India. Tamil Nadu is India’s most urbanized state by geography and population.

It was no wonder, then, that some of the largest global organizations – World Bank, Citibank, Amex, AIG, D & B, etc. chose Tamil Nadu, and Chennai in particular, decades ago, for their offshore operations. I realized that Tamil Nadu is home to 62 Fortune 500 companies – Boeing, Caterpillar, Citibank, Coca Cola, Dell, Oracle, to name a few US-based corporations, and Hitachi, Yamaha, BMW, Bosch, Alstom, Saint Gobain, Nokia, etc., from other geographies.

Education, infrastructure, quality of life

At one of the deliberations during the two-day event, a distinguished set of panelists discussed the criteria that a global corporation would have, to choose a location for its offshore operations.

Apart from the obvious cost arbitrage such an operation provides, other factors such as availability of skilled manpower, telecommunications infrastructure, physical infrastructure, cultural/soft infrastructure and geopolitical infrastructure, were critical.

Not only does Chennai and, for that matter, Tamil Nadu tick all the boxes here, I also discovered that there is more to this place than meets the eye.

The presence of excellent colleges and universities such as the IIT, VIT, SASTRA, to name a few, ensures that industries never run short of skilled manpower. Tamil Nadu has the largest talent pool in the country with around 570 engineering colleges and over 500 polytechnics. Digital connectivity in Tamil Nadu is the largest in India with an available bandwidth of 14.8 TBps. An interesting fact I noted was that three out of India’s 10 submarine landing stations are in Chennai.

Tamil Nadu is a power surplus state with enough power to meet the needs of the expansion planned by the various industries dotting its map. The CXOs on the panel observed that they found that the work/professional ethic among Chennai-ites was excellent. They very rarely abuse technology despite their deep technical knowledge, a panelist said.

Chennai has always been a safe place to live in, thanks to the law and order situation being closely monitored and controlled by the State. Although natural calamities have been few and far between, Chennai has demonstrated excellent resilience and quickly bounced back from the floods and the cyclones it faced in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The 400-year-old city boasts of banking institutions that have been around for well over a century. The first ATM in India was set up in Chennai. Whew, and, the list goes on.

Way to go, Chennai!

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