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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 18:54 GMT
US companies eye Indian skills

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

John F Welch Technology Centre, Bangalore
GE is among many US companies which has spent millions on an R&D facility

President Bush meets Indian business leaders in the south of the country on Friday. There is plenty to talk about.

In a quiet suburb of the southern Indian city of Bangalore, some 2,500 Indians are working in a $80m facility using some of the most advanced technology in the world.

Spread over 50 acres, the John F Welch Technology Centre is one of only four such research and development (R&D) centres in the world, and was set up in 2000 by American giant General Electric (GE).

Its laboratories employ highly-skilled Indian engineers, scientists and researchers who work on developing applications for GE's businesses worldwide.

In 2000, when the then US President Bill Clinton visited India, many US companies were cashing in on India's fast growing IT sector.

But most of them were using low-skilled workers, mainly fresh college graduates, for a variety of basic call centre and back office processing work.

Hi-tech research

Six years later, as Mr Clinton's Republican successor George W Bush comes calling, American business interests in India have taken a quantum leap.

India has a strong foundation in its technology and engineering schools and, as a result, is an excellent source for scientific talent
Guillermo Wille
Director, GE R&D centre
"Earlier US companies basically outsourced data processing, back office work etc.," says Ramesh C Bajpai, Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in India.

"Now basic research work is being carried out in this country. That's what's been happening for the past two to three years."

With India registering a growth rate of 8% a year, it is beginning to attract significant amounts of high technology investment.

Another American company, Cisco Systems, is investing $1.2bn in a new R&D centre in Bangalore which will employ 3,000 people - it's single largest investment outside the US.

Microsoft has announced plans to invest $1.7bn in its own research facility and Intel another billion.

Technicians at Ranbaxy laboratory
Indian has a deep pool of skilled, scientific talent

"What American companies have now realised is that the talent pool in India is now on par with the United States," says Mr Bajpai.

Now Indian skills are being used for innovation and design.

Guillermo Wille, Managing Director of the John F Welch centre believes India is becoming the preferred destination for global companies to set up their R&D centres.

"India has a strong foundation in its technology and engineering schools and, as a result, is an excellent source for scientific talent," he says.

Reverse brain-drain

The increased opportunities for highly-skilled work is also attracting many Indians who are based in the United States but are returning home to work on similar projects in surroundings that are a bit more familiar.

Rangu Salgame worked in the US for 20 years, mainly in telecom companies.

Metropolitan Mall, Gurgaon India
American brands are a visible sign across India
In 2003, he returned to the country of his birth to head Cisco's India operations.

"India as a market is very attractive," he says.

"Cisco in India is replicating all the functions that it does in the United States - R&D, infrastructure and venture capital.

"This is just the beginning of the telecom revolution in India."

With the political relationship between the two countries, once ranged on opposite sides of the Cold War fence, improving substantially, American companies are getting comfortable with the idea of doing business with India - a lot of business.

Last year US exports to India jumped by 30% but, at $7.96bn, were substantially lower than its imports from India - which amounted to $18.8bn.

Appetite for more

But that could slowly change.

Along with technology and fuel to feed India's growing energy appetite, American companies are also targeting Indian consumers.

Our life here is almost uncannily similar to life back there (US)
Satish Reddy
Software engineer
It's something that's not lost on the American chief executive.

"Young Indians are acquiring a taste for pizza from Domino's and Pizza Hut," President Bush said in a recent speech.

A visit to Gurgaon, a wealthy suburb of Delhi, appears to confirm the optimism.

Nestled between high-rise apartment blocks and shiny office complexes, housing leading American companies like Gillette and American Express, are a series of shopping malls that would not be out of place in Texas.

Inside, young Indians browse through shops selling Nike footwear and Levis jeans, gawk at the latest Ford SUV on display and then head off to the food-court to choose between McDonalds, Dominos or Subway.

Satish Reddy used to work in a software company in California's famed Silicon Valley.

Two years later he returned to work for a leading American company based in Gurgaon.

"My wife and I were apprehensive at first. After all, we'd lived in the States for eight years," he says, speaking in a strong Californian drawl.

"But our life here is almost uncannily similar to life back there.

"Our apartment is centrally air-conditioned, is well-equipped. We work out at a gym nearby, catch a movie at the mall on weekends, grab a pizza afterwards.

"And the best part of it all is that if you are homesick, you just need to step outside."

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