Indian Ambassador Shankar visits Twin Cities


The Indian community of Minnesota this week welcomed Her Excellency Meera Shankar, the Ambassador of India to the United States on her first official visit to Minnesota.

Ambassador and Mr. Shankar were given an Official Reception at the Governors Mansion by Governor and Mrs. Pawlenty, who both participated in largest ever State Trade Mission to India in 2007. Guests included executives from Minnesota firms and trade mission participants.

The visit on Tuesday and Wednesday, was initiated by the Minnesota Trade Office, and included a whirlwind tour of corporations, institutions, officials and Indian community organizations, to assist the Ambassador in her goal to promote and strengthen commercial, cultural, educational and humanitarian ties between Minnesota and India.

“It will be important for Minnesota and United states businesses to look at strategies for dealing with the impact of India within the world economy,” the Ambassador stated during her Keynote at an India Chamber of Commerce Breakfast on Tuesday.

“Remember, the population of India, what one billion people do, what they buy and what they need will influence markets,” Shankar added.

India is ranked 20th among export markets for Minnesota-manufactured goods, up from 31st in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Shankar reportedly met with several companies that have investments from Indian firms, including Essar Steel Minnesota in Nashwauk and Suzlon Rotor Corporation in Pipestone. There was also a meeting with Elizabeth Sweeney, executive director of Children’s Heartlink.

The Ambassador also held meetings in Wayzata with Cargill Chairman and CEO Gregory Page, along with a roundtable meeting with food and agri-business company representatives from Land O’ Lakes, Ecolab, and Eaton Hydraulics. She also met with Target Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel in Minneapolis, and at Medtronic, she met with CEO Bill Hawkins and over 100 of Medtronic’s top vice presidents responsible for global growth.

She also spoke on U.S.-Indian relations and on opportunities for commercial and knowledge partnerships between the two countries in several public appearances, including addresses at the University of Minnesota and the Economic Club of Minnesota, co-hosted by TiE Minnesota (Talent, Ideas and Enterprise) with offices in Eden Prairie, and the Minnesota Trade Office, where the Ambassador spoke on “India’s Growth Story – Prospects for Partnership.”

TiE was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. It now has several chapters around the world, with TiE Minnesota starting in 2006.

The Ambassador attended a luncheon and a visit with University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, followed by a speaking engagement at Bell Auditorium on the University of Minnesota Campus. The event, hosted by the University International Center and its India Center, the India Association of Minnesota and the Minnesota International Center, expanded in detail on the topics of the breakfast address.

The Ambassador shared more information about the Indian economy, its ambitious expectations to see up to 10 percent growth in the coming decades – something she said is essential for all of India to realize the benefits. The speech, “U.S.-India Knowledge Partnership: Emerging Opportunities” was directed toward a group of faculty, students and community was co-hosted by India Association of Minnesota.

Shankar spoke about needed reforms with education in India to prepare a wider educated population needed for a manufacturing base to offset displaced workers from a better producing, but shrinking agricultural sector.

“Our Parliament has established a ‘right to education’ for 6-14 year olds and now it must put fiscal resources in place to reach that goal,” she said. “The government will expand its expenditures on education from 8 to 19 percent of the budget.”

She said America would help develop education that fosters innovation and creativity. Private education, including foreign run, would negotiate direct investment policy revisions to not be strictly commercial in nature but require revenue reinvestment in educational efforts, she added.

“There will be 1 trillion dollars spent over the next decade in India on infrastructure:  ports, roads, rail, telecom, electricity and energy,” she said. “This presents opportunities for United States and Minnesota business.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce started the visit with a “Meet the Ambassador” breakfast Tuesday at the Radisson Plaza Downtown – hosted by the India Chamber of Commerce to present its ICC Global Village FTZ concept presentation and to kick-off the ICC Women’s Business Council initiative.

The Ambassador spoke on the topic of “US Business with India”, and emphasized the importance for businesses to look at strategies for dealing with the impact of India within the world economy.

Shankar said that the potential scale of the Indian market is a big opportunity as its middle class increases from 300 million to 500 million. The rate of India’s growth has climbed to 6 percent and she said it would need to be maintained from 8 to 10 percent for decades to achieve national goals.

“Remember the population of India, what one billion people do, what they buy and what they need will influence markets,” she said in her Keynote.

“The relationship with the United States is crucial for India’s development and for building regional peace and security,” she added.

Many Indian Minnesotans are here on worker visas, making a decision to separate from families for years at a time – and no guarantees that their commitment will be reciprocated for the entire employment period. When asked about American immigration reform and how her office could influence the possible improvements with worker visas, the Ambassador said first and foremost it is for the United States alone to determine how it shapes its own immigration policies.

“Clearly, humanitarian aspects should be a factor in that process, but we would not really like to comment on what kind of immigration policies the U.S. should have,” Shankar added.

The Ambassador said that Indian would of course hope to retain its talented workforce and to attract talent back from the United States if possible.

“What we are concerned about is that the visa and other regime, and other framework should be conducive to business and should be conducive to the growth of trade and economic ties between our people,” she added.