One week after her successful reelection campaign, incumbent Governor Nimrata Nikki Haley of South Carolina embarked on a historic trip to India to promote tourism and trade between the Subcontinent and her home state. In doing so, she joined a growing group of state governors undertaking trade missions to the Asia Pacific.
From November 12th-22nd, Governor Haley led a delegation of eighteen officials and businesses executives on a whirlwind, six-state tour of India. Members of her team attended a total of ninety meetings in New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, and Amritsar. The governor herself was present at forty of these events, including a “Doing Business with South Carolina” seminar hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry in Punjab. Other highlights included consultations with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, and the US-India Importers’ Council.
It was not the Haley administration’s first foray abroad to stimulate foreign investment – a visit to the Paris Airshow in 2011 injected 890 jobs and $100 million into the South Carolina economy – but this trip had deep personal resonance for the 42-year-old Republican. Haley is of Indian descent: in 2010 she became the first Indian American to serve as South Carolina’s governor, and she is only the second Indian American governor in the United States (after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana became the first in 2008). Born in South Carolina, Haley’s parents hail from the suburb of Verka in the Amritsar District of Punjab, India. When Haley was first named governor four years ago, the citizens of Verka celebrated her success as that of a family member. India’s US Ambassador, Meera Shankar, even attended Haley’s inauguration ceremony in 2011, and Haley herself enjoyed an audience with Prime Minister Modi when he visited Washington last September.
The November trade mission marked the governor’s first visit to India since 1974, so her arrival was regarded as something of a “homecoming” by the Indian public. Throughout the tour, Haley was eager to publicize South Carolina’s recent ranking as the third best state with which to do business, attributing that honor to her state’s low taxes, light regulatory climate, and lack of labor unions. Also high on Haley’s agenda was promoting South Carolina’s pharmaceutical, IT, agriculture, and manufacturing industries. The automotive and aerospace sectors received particular attention, with Haley highlighting the robust presence of companies like Boeing, BMW, and Michelin in her home state. The governor generated interest in exchanges with South Carolinian universities like Clemson and USC, which boast excellent engineering and international business programs. In a nod to tourism, Haley also touted SC as the “number two” vacation destination worldwide, a claim that has its origins in the 2014 Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.
The Indian presence in South Carolina is small but growing. The 2010 state census counted 17,961 individuals of Indian descent, a marked increase from 9,578 in 2000. Approximately 25,000 Indian tourists visit the state annually, and in the 2011-12 academic year, 644 Indian students studied abroad in South Carolina. India is South Carolina’s 16th most important trade partner as of 2013, and among all US states, South Carolina is the 14th largest exporter to India, to the tune of $352 million last year.
In an interview with the Indian news channel Headlines Today, Haley noted that “the entrepreneurial spirit that’s developing in India… is very special. We want to make sure India becomes part of the South Carolina success story.”
Olivia Waring is a graduate of Princeton and Oxford Universities and a Research Intern at the East West Center in Washington DC.