Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a Council Member At Large and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and an Opinion Writer for WRAL Tech Wire.  He served on the Board of the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council, and on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force. He is a regular contributing writer to WRAL TechWire.

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: info@wraltechwire.com.


MORRISVILLE – Here’s a fun party game: shuffle a stack of business cards from a random cross-section of American corporate leaders, then close your eyes, pick one — and see if the card you’ve drawn bears an Indian name. Now look at that person’s address. There’s a good chance that CEO is based in North Carolina.

Okay, perhaps it’s not a great party game. But there’s no question that in the modern business world, Indian-Americans are everywhere: not just in computer rooms and research labs, but increasingly in C-suites and boardrooms, too.

Right now, Indian-Americans are running businesses ranging Alphabet to FedEx. Right here in North Carolina, there’s Dhruv Gupta, the founder and CEO of DynPro, a Chapel Hill digital consulting firm with over 1200 employees. There’s former Belk CEO Nir Patel, now a top executive at Gamestop. Or there’s Partha Sen, CEO of Charlotte-based data-science provider Fuzzy Logix. The list goes on: from finance and retail to computing and biotech, scores of Indian-owned, Indian-founded, or Indian-led businesses are creating thousands of well-paid jobs for American workers.

These leaders aren’t just driving job creation and innovation here at home; they’re encouraging business leaders back in India to invest in America—and, specifically, in North Carolina. Remarkably, our state has captured the lion’s share of Indian investment in the United States. Between 2014 and 2018, Indian businesses invested over $409 million here, creating over 4,400 jobs — more than were created by Indian investments in any other state.

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Investments in the Tar Heel State

In recent years, we’ve seen Infosys bring a new $3 billion innovation hub to the Triangle, with the goal of creating thousands of jobs over the next decade. We’ve seen Bharat Forge bring hundreds of jobs to Sanford, and HCL bring thousands more to Cary. With one in five major business expansions in North Carolina now involving foreign direct investment, these connections are vital to our state’s continuing economic growth — and that makes our Indian-American neighbors and colleagues a vital long-term strategic asset.

This is happening, because North Carolina has developed a good reputation in India—a state brand, if you will. To be sure, we’ve worked to market ourselves; the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina has set up offices in Bangalore to promote our state to Indian businesses.

We should also thank people like Swadesh Chatterjee, the Cary-based Indian-American entrepreneur who did so much to foster warm relations between U.S. and India leaders. But the marketing has worked, because we’re promoting something real. We truly are a great place for Indians to come, study, work, and succeed. As a result, more Indians want to come here to get and education and pursue their dreams. It’s a virtuous cycle.

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Just the tip of the iceberg

All this should serve as a reminder that while Indian-American CEOs are highly visible, they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the contributions made by Indian-Americans. Indian students, alongside other international students, pour $722.3 million a year into our state’s economy, supporting over 9,000 jobs. The skills they gain support our innovation economy and help businesses of all kinds to succeed.

And many Indians wind up starting businesses of their own, often with astounding success: as of 2016 Indian immigrants had founded 14 of the 87 American “unicorn” startups valued at more than $1 billion — more than were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs of any other nationality.

Indian-American CEOs, in other words, are just one part of a much bigger story — a broader ecosystem of South Asian talent that draws opportunity, prosperity, and billions of dollars in foreign capital to our state. The question is, are we doing enough to keep drawing Indians to our shores, and to set the stage for the next generation of Indian executives to power our economy?

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Facing challenges

Unfortunately, our state’s India-friendly brand can only carry us so far. Our current immigration system makes it far too difficult for Indians to gain a foothold in the United States — or to achieve their full potential once they’re here.

In fact, experts say 2023 is set to be the toughest year on record for skilled workers, with over half a million people competing for just 85,000 visas. Worse still, those workers who do gain visas are often unable to graduate to green cards, thanks to “country cap” policies that mean Indians often face a decades-long wait for permanent status. That’s a big problem, because it ties Indian workers to a single employer, and makes it impossible for them to pursue new opportunities or start businesses of their own.

North Carolina has a lot invested in India, as the country’s business community does in us. To keep this partnership strong–and those Indian investments flowing—our nation needs sensible immigration policies.

At a minimum, we need reforms to the skilled-worker visa and green card programs, to help more Indian workers to envision a future for themselves here in North Carolina.

Lets get to work to make this happen.