Politics & Government

April 7, 2014

Gov. Nikki Haley to lead S.C. trade mission to India

Gov. Nikki Haley is heading on a 10-day trade mission to India in November with hopes of introducing her home state to her parents’ home country.

Gov. Nikki Haley is heading on a 10-day trade mission to India in November in hopes of introducing her home state to her parents’ home country.

Haley, the nation’s second Indian-American governor, will visit New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and the Punjab state, where her parents were born.

The mission will include five staff members from the S.C. Commerce Department and governor’s office, Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said Monday. The state’s cost estimate for the trip is about $50,000, Hitt said. Up to 14 more local economic development officials and exporters are expected to join the mission.

The trip – from Nov. 12 to 22 – is scheduled to take place a week after the general election, when Haley is seeking a second four-year term as South Carolina’s governor.

South Carolina is playing catch-up in trying to attract investment from India. Since 2006, 11 other U.S. governors have taken trade missions to country, the world’s second most populated nation, Hitt said. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory also has planned an India trip.

At a State House news conference Monday, Haley said the state does not want those governors “to get a leg up” on South Carolina in recruiting companies interested in operating in the United States.

Indian companies ranked 16th in investment among foreign-based companies in South Carolina from 2011 to 2013, investing $26 million, the Commerce Department said. In addition, S.C. exports to India totaled $352 million last year, more than triple the total from 2005, Commerce said.

“That’s why we see an opportunity here,” Hitt said.

The state Commerce Department has sent other officials to India, including a trip underway this week, Hitt said. South Carolina, which has overseas trade offices in China, Japan and Europe, does not have Commerce staff based in India.

The governor could have an impact with her visit, Hitt said. “CEOs want to meet CEOs, and Gov. Haley is our CEO.”

Haley’s Indian heritage also should help in making connections with business leaders, Hitt said.

Haley’s parents hailed from the Punjab state of northern India. They met on a mountain vacation in Dharamsala, also in northern India, according to the Republican’s 2012 memoir, “Can’t Is Not an Option.” Haley said one of her grandfathers was an officer in the British Army during that country’s colonial period.

Haley’s father brought his family to North America in the late 1960s, according to her memoir. Ajit Randhawa studied for a doctorate in Vancouver, and the family moved to South Carolina in 1969, when Haley’s father began teaching at Voorhees College in Denmark.

The governor was born three years later, while the family was living in Bamberg.

Haley’s only previous visit to India came as a 2-year-old, her office said. “This will be a special trip for her,” Hitt said.

Haley is expecting mostly work, she said Monday.

“The hard part about these trips is, I never get to seem to have any fun,” Haley said, when asked whether her Indian trip would be all business. “You get there, and it’s work, work, work, and then you leave,” she said.

“The idea of being in the country that my parents hold dear – I’m sure that just the feeling of being there will be pretty strong for me. But I don’t know that we’re going to get any time. The last words that I heard from Commerce was, ‘This is going to be brutal.’ ”

Haley’s 2010 election drew coverage in her parents’ native country. And Bina Murarka, editor of a California-based weekly India-West, said Haley’s visit will be a big deal in India. Murarka predicted Haley will be welcomed to India a little differently than other governors. “They think she is one of their own.”

Haley’s parents, who last visited India in the late 1980s, will not travel with Haley on the November trip, her office said.

If any Haley family member accompanies the governor, it will be her husband, Michael Haley, and the couple would cover the cost of his travel, Haley’s spokesman’s Doug Mayer said.

Since taking office in 2011, Haley has attended air shows in Paris and England, an auto show in Frankfurt and a trade show in Tokyo. Haley also spent three days last week in Canada, visiting Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Businesses in India can help with South Carolina’s growing automotive and aerospace industries, Hitt said. “It essentially has everything.”

Staff writer Jamie Self contributed.

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