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.
MORRISVILLE – Based on the explosive growth of the Indian American community in the Triangle, and the increasing need for frequency of travel to India from the Triangle, Community leaders and myself are hosting a Town Hall meeting with RDU Airport CEO, Michael Landguth on Sept. 22, at 6:30 pm at the Hindu Society of North Carolina. (309 Aviation Parkway, Morrisville, NC 27560)
The purpose of the meeting is to explore the possibilities of Direct flight service to India, and for Mr. Landguth and his team to share the criteria that the Airport uses when considering additions to international flight service. Michael will provide an overview of the airline industry and what it takes to recruit international air service. During the meeting, he also plans to reveal the most current airport data on the number of daily travelers to India from RDU.
The community hopes to seek guidance and advice on the strategic steps which need to be considered for direct air service to India as RDU continues to expand International Flights. In addition, he will update the community on the RDU Vision 2040 Strategic Plan, and the challenges and opportunities facing RDU Airport in a post Covid economy.
We have also invited Executive Director, of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, Ryan Combs, and I am working with the Hindu Society of North Carolina, North Carolina Association of Indian Americans, global entrepreneurial organization, TIE Carolinas, and IT Serve, a coalition of Indian American Tech CEOS.
This Town Hall meeting was the result of an increasing number of emails and phone calls I have received from the Community over the years on the need for a direct flight to India. Prior to the Covid Pandemic, Mr. Landguth and I had planned a Town Hall to discuss this issue, but the past two years was very difficult for me to put together a meeting.
Today, Newark, Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, Seattle and San Francisco have direct flights to India, (LA had one before Covid Pandemic) and these airports are all major international airports, unlike RDU. However, I still believe that there are a number of reasons, RDU should consider adding a direct flight.
In fact, during the pandemic, I saw a significant increase in interest for a direct flight to India. Much of this interest came from families, who were not able to asee their loved ones before they passed away, as they missed connecting flights. The heartbreak and sorrow I witnessed left a mark on me and opened my eyes on how important a direct flight could be to this growing community.
Yes, although there are a number of ways to get to India, either via Paris, London or Dubai, a direct flight could be more convenient with no connections or layovers. Currently, the Paris flight from RDU is the number one connection to Delhi, Chennai and other cities in India.
ACCLERATING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TIES TO NC
It is not secret that North Carolina will need to continue to strengthen economic ties with the world largest democracy and 5th largest economy in the world, India.
In fact, The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) set up an office in Bangalore in November 2018 to build on its track record of Indian company presence in the US region. Chris Chung and his team led the efforts to establish this office to leverage on the recent economic development momentum of investment from India.
In 2017, Infosys established an innovation hub in Raleigh with the goal of over 2000 jobs in the region in 10 years and have already met the goal of 500 jobs by 2021. This $3 billion investment from the market leading Tech Services firm was a game changing win for our State.
Bharat Forge announced plans in 2019 to invest $127.3 million and create 304 jobs in Sanford. And HCL in Cary is a perfect example of how Foreign Direct Investment from India can lead to high paying jobs and aggressive economic growth in the region.
A direct flight to India can accelerate this economic development momentum and encourage more companies in India, across the technology, manufacturing and life science sectors in invest in our region. Also, many technology companies, including IBM, SAS, Cisco, to name a few, continue to have a strong presence in India, along with smaller tech companies as well, many in Morrisville and Cary. Pharma, Life Science and Contract Research Organizations also have significant connections to India.
IMMIGRATION AND INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
In past blogs, I have addressed the challenges many Indian American families experience with the backlog on H1 B visas and H4 Visas. Difficulties in securing Visas for families to travel to North Carolina, has increased the need for many of our residents to visit their families in times of need, particularly aging or sick parents or family members. A direct flight or expanded air service to India could certainly help these families during difficult times.
A direct flight to India could also provide a much needed connection back home for a sizeable international student population which continues only continues to grow in our region along with help strengthen global student recruitment efforts. Our universities are abundant with international students from all round the globe, many from India. Our state’s 21,954 international students inject $722.3 million a year into the local economy, supporting over 9,000 jobs. International students also make college affordable for Americans: though they account for just 4.6% of the student population, foreign students pay 28% of all college tuition.
I am very excited about this Town Hall Meeting and look forward to Mr. Landguth and the Indian Community collaborating on what I believe would be a very much needed addition to the International Flights out of RDU.
Over the past decade, the Triangle region has witnessed explosive growth of the Indian community. With over 425,000 Asian Americans in North Carolina, 2021 census estimates had over 51,000 Indian Americans in Wake County and 57,000 with Wake, Durham and Orange counties combined. The Census also revealed that the Indian American community in Morrisville comprised 46% of the Town of Morrisville population, currently at 36,840. Census experts have revealed to me that the Town of Cary has at least 20% of Indian Americans as residents.
Every day in our All America City, I enjoy celebrating our Triangle connection to India in Morrisville, where I can start my day with an Idli Dosa and a South Indian coffee, listen to my own show Radio Nyra, the Triangle’s largest Indian Radio Station, watch Cricket at Church Street Park, and end my day with a Bollywood Concert or Diwali Celebration at HSNC or in October, Hum Sub Diwali.
Every day, we see more and more immigrants coming from India to the region, and I continue to work with my colleagues on the Council, other elected officials, and business leaders in the Triangle, to not only strengthen, but grow our connections to the world’s largest democracy.
We look forward to seeing you on Thursday for an engaging and productive discussion and thank Michael Landguth and his team for taking time out of their busy schedhules to work with us to make this meeting happen. I also thank the Hindu Society of North Carolina, North Carolina Association of Indian Americans and all of the sponsors of this event.
Sold out attendance is expected, which includes leaders from the Indian Community, Business Community, and other elected officials, including North Carolina State Minority Whip, Jay Chaudhuri, and my colleague, Council Member Satish Garimella.
Every year, I am honored to work with my Colleagues on the Council to continue to lead the All America City of Morrisville, where all of us can Live Connected and Live Well. One of the most important connections we continue to celebrate in Morrisvile and much of the Triangle, is our connection with India.
Considering a direct flight to India, will help the thousands of Indian Americans, who call North Carolina home and can strengthen our economic and cultural connections to the world’s largest democracy and 5th largest economy in the world.
Lets get to work. See you Thursday.