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.

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MORRISVILLE – In January, I was able to attend Vice President Harris’s visit  with Triangle Small Businesses at the Duke center for Performing Arts in Raleigh.

Much of Vice President Harris’ remarks was focused on the Biden Administration’s efforts to increase access to capital for small businesses, and the Administrations’ support  of minority owned businesses.   SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman reminded the attendees that the lead initiative of the Small Business Administration is the significant increase of access to capital for minority businesses, doubling the number of minority firms in government contracting and increasing the engagement to a wide assortment of business startup and expansion training and resources for black and brown Americans, women, veterans and underserved Americans.

During the event, my friend Allen Thomas, SBA Southeastern Regional Administrator introduced me to Gabe Esparza, Associate Administrator of International Trade for the Small Business Administration. (SBA)

Steve Rao

Gabe explained to me that every year the SBA hosts a small business event for an international community and was looking for a City in the United States to host an Indian American small business event.     His team wanted to build on the successful event which they held in Seattle last year with the Korean American small business community. Last year, the SBA hosted a successful event for the Korean business community in Seattle to help local Korean American businesses find new opportunities to sell back to Korea and increase trade between the State of Washington and Korea.  (https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/a-win-win-for-korean-american-small-businesses-and-seattle-economy/)

He shared with me that were looking for a venue and host city for a Indian American Diaspora Small Business event this April.

An SBA focus on the Indian business community is very timely and makes perfect sense.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2020 Census and the American Community Survey’s 5-year estimate, there are over 4 million people of Indian descent alone living in the U.S., and many more that identified as Indian in combination with another race. Many Indian-Americans come to the U.S. for educational purposes but end up staying to become entrepreneurs. They are important contributors to technological advances in the life sciences, IT, and medicine.  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.

Although the SBA was had narrowed their search for the host city to two other Cities in the US for this event,  I made it my mission in that moment to convince Gabe that Morrisville and the Research Triangle was the ideal venue for an Indian American Diaspora event.

His response was:  Why would the Triangle be the best place for an Indian American Small Business Event? 

 Here was my answer and sales pitch to the SBA:

North Carolina’s Asian-American population has grown 65% over the past decade, bringing vital skills, driving economic growth and offsetting the impact of labor shortages in some critical skills, for our state’s employers.

Today about a third of Morrisville’s 30,000 residents are Indian-Americans.  In Wake County, the Indian American population is estimated to be over 60,000 and in Morrisville, South Asians make up 47% of Town’s population.    West Cary is also experiencing significant growth in this demographic.

 I also shared my inspiration of the remarkable economic, cultural and political transformation this community is bringing to our region and state. I can start my day in Morrisville with an Idli Dosa breakfast and a South Indian filter coffee, watch Cricket at Church Street Park and end my day with a Holi or Diwali festival at the Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary or Hindu Society of North Carolina. I also serve with an immigrant from Mumbai, Satish Garimella, on the Morrisville City Council — the only council in the State with two Hindu members.

The Research Triangle region in North Carolina is thriving thanks in large part to the success of Indian-American entrepreneurs.  Indian-American businesses are creating jobs in North Carolina.   Much of this job creation is in the Technology, Life Science Sectors, along with health care, retail and hospitality.     I was very pleased to see so many Indian entrepreneurs turn out for our Small Business Town Hall hosted by Allen Thomas and attended by Congresswoman Deborah Ross, Congresswoman Foushee,  and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.   (More on this event in my next blog)

Not only are Indian-Americans  one of the fastest emerging demographics of small business owners in this region, these business owners are bringing diversity and inclusion as well as growth in manufacturing jobs, innovation and investment.  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.   (https://wraltechwire.com/2023/01/16/guest-opinion-ncs-indian-american-ceos-are-only-the-tip-of-the-iceberg/)  In fact,  EDPNC has an office in Bengaluru, India, focused on encouraging Indian companies to invest in the Old North State.

Well,  I am pleased that my sales efforts to land this historic event paid off.

India is the apple of Tim Cook’s eye – more investment, jobs, manufacturing

Today’s the day

Today, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Hindu Society of North Carolina (HSNC) are co-sponsoring THE US-INDIA BUSINESS CONNECTION, a National Summit for Indian owned businesses, entrepreneurs and startups in Morrisville.

This event will have educational programs offering tools on gaining access to capital, exporting to India or from India to the United States, and using technology to benefit your business.  This one day conference will be an opportunity to learn about export resources and programs, hear from successful diaspora entrepreneurs, and learn about how to access capital to grow one’s small business.  Entrepreneurial organizations TIE Carolinas and the North Carolina Association of Indian Americans are promoting this event to their members.   Public and private enterprise will have an opportunity to mingle and learn from one another.

This event highlights SBA’s commitment to helping Indian-American small business owners succeed, as the agency helps all American small business start and grow.  Members of the Indian diaspora have close ties with international communities, and they have the unique ability to recognize and leverage opportunities in other markets. Bi-lateral trade creates 21st century jobs, grows small businesses , drives innovation, and increases America’s global competitiveness.  We are excited to shed light on the Indian-American business owners in the Research Triangle that contribute to the local economy and community.

The event  also plans to  celebrate broader South Asian-owned small business owners’ success. With offices in Cary, NC, Sciencix will be celebrated as SBA’s Exporter of the Year.  Sciencix’s President Raj Bhandari is of Nepalese descent and speaks both Hindi and Nepali. Sciencix specializes in the development and manufacturing of high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry parts. The company exports to over 100 countries, including India. Raj received exporting help from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina through the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) funded by the SBA.

STEP is specifically designed to help small businesses in North Carolina fund costs associated with international trade. Qualifying exporters are eligible for up to $24,000 in reimbursements for business building activities. STEP is one of the trade resources that will be discussed at the upcoming event. If you are a small business owner interested in exporting, you need to know about STEP.

As we continue to face economic uncertainty in the midst of inflation, rising gas prices, and interest rates,  accelerating job creation needs to continue to be a top priority for all of us.      Over the past few years, North Carolina and our region has been able to win large, transformative economic development deals like Vinfast and others through billions of dollars of incentives.

In the game of economic development, the goal is always to bring high paying jobs to our state.   I commend and applaud these efforts.     However, The success and growth of small businesses are equally  important in accelerating job growth in a post pandemic economy.    There are more than 33 million small businesses operating across the United States.  Small businesses accounted for 66% of net new jobs over the past 25 years and  create 2 out of every 3 net new jobs in the private sector.

In North Carolina.  There are 961,000 small businesses, that employ over 1.7 million and represents over 90% of employees in the state.     A total of 10,514 firms exported goods worth $26.1 billion from North Carolina in 2020. Of those exporters, 9,141—or 86.9 percent—were small.

Exports by small firms reached $5.6 billion, making up 21.4 percent of exports by identified firms.

During the High Flyer Awards Luncheon last year, First Flight Venture Board Member, reminded us that for every company we start in NC, we create 6 jobs.  During the pandemic, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall incorporated over 93,000 companies.

Do the math. Small businesses created over 450, 000 jobs.

The US- India Business Connection will be another step in the right direction. Businesses in North Carolina are excited to invite Indian investment and explore trade opportunities to India, the world’s fifth largest economy, which will only serve to expand the robust economy we already enjoy.  The post-pandemic economy remains uncertain.  Better connections between our great state and the businesses and vast consumer market of India will prove helpful with recovery and expansion. Exporting is a great way to grow revenue and diversify your businesses’ customers.