Gov. Nikki Haley and state officials are heading to India next week, hoping to make a “first impression” that sells the Palmetto State as a tourism destination and a place to do business.
The 10-day trip includes a schedule that is “nothing short of grueling” with 90 planned meetings and events, including 40 on Haley’s itinerary, said S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.
State Commerce officials have traveled to India four times in two years to prepare for the trip, but Haley’s visit will garner media attention there, Hitt said. Haley leaves on Tuesday and will arrive in India the next day. She returns Nov. 22.
Haley has been building ties with India.
At the invitation of India’s U.S. Embassy, Haley met with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New York in September, first with her Indian-born parents, Ajit and Raj Randhawa, and then later in a private meeting.
Haley told reporters Thursday that she did not know what to expect from the trip, “but when I met with the prime minister, we had a lot of conversations.”
Haley said she sees opportunities in pharmaceuticals, automotives and agriculture.
“There's a lot that India is doing very well that they now want to start investing in the United States,” she said. "That's really where my goal is: where can I get them to invest and do more of those things.”
The trip next week is a chance for South Carolina to make a “first impression” on India businesses and commerce officials, Hitt said.
“This is our way of pushing out a message that we're serious about our relationship with India.”
The S.C. entourage includes 18 people. Haley, state Commerce, tourism and Governor’s Office staffers account for eight of those traveling, not including the governor’s security staff.
Other travelers include economic development organizations from around the state and S.C. companies interested in exporting goods to India.
Hitt said state officials are keying in on the Indian manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors while there, hoping to tap into an “emerging” market.
India is South Carolina’s 16th-largest trading partner, Hitt said.
Last year, the state’s exports to India were valued at $352 million, up from $110 million in 2005, ranking South Carolina 14th in the nation for its exports to India.
U.S. exports to India have increased by 127 percent since 2006, outpacing the growth in all other foreign exports combined, which only grew by 50 percent during the same time period.
While in India, Haley will address several business organizations and, with Duane Parrish, state Parks, Recreation and Tourism director, pitch the state as a tourist destination to several India-based travel media.
A group of S.C. representatives also will attend the Aeromart Summit, an international business summit for the aerospace industry.
At $50,000, the cost of the trip to taxpayers is less than previous trips Haley has taken, the Commerce Department said.
Haley has gone on five economic-development trips outside of the United States since becoming governor. She has attended aviation and automotive shows in Europe, an economic development conference in Japan, and went on a recruiting trip in Canada. Some of the trips cost $100,000 or more each.
The trip marks the second time Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has traveled to her parents’ homeland. Her only other visit was when she was 2 years old.
First gentleman Michael Haley will travel with the governor with the couple paying his expenses. No other families members are going on the trip, and the schedule includes no personal stops for the Haleys, Hitt said.
Haley will travel to New Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Mumbai and Chennai. Others in the delegation will travel to New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai, Hitt said.
Economic development groups going on the trip include the Upstate Alliance, The LINK Alliance that represents Sumter and Lee counties, and the S.C. Power Team.
Staff reporter Andrew Shain contributed.