By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Sri City, an integrated business city in Andhra, is around 50 km from Chennai, the capital of neighbouring Tamil Nadu, and has an investment potential of Rs 23,000 crore.
Spread over 7,500 acres, it hopes to expand to 10,000 acres and houses an eclectic mix of 145 manufacturing units. When fully up and running, it would generate direct and indirect job opportunities for over 32,000 people.
Here, you'll find global names making trains (Alstom Metro coaches), toys (Pals Plush), cars (Isuzu), chocolates (Mondelez), cranes (Kobelco), smartphones (Foxconn) and toothbrushes (Colgate Palmolive) -- just to give you an idea of the sweep.
Last week, Chinese electronics company ZTT performed its ground breaking for its second unit here.
"We want to make Sri City a 10,000 acre integrated business city. Forty per cent of the current space has been filled up and the balance is expected to be filled in 5-8 years," Ravindra Sannareddy, Managing Director, Sri City Pvt Ltd, told IANS in an interview.
He said a sum of around Rs 1,200 crore ($176 million) has gone into the multi-product business city project comprising a special economic zone (SEZ) and a domestic tariff zone (DTZ) further subdivided into different sectoral zones.
"This is a long-gestation project. We have to keep investing to improve infrastructure. More than the profit, what we see is the increase in the valuation," Sannareddy said.
During 2016, 13 companies kicked off construction work of their plants and seven units went on stream, marking the entry into commercial production. Ten of the existing units have gone in for expansion.
Besides, 22 new companies have signed MOUs with Sri City for setting up plants at a total committed investment of approximately Rs 5,300 crore.
Sannareddy said that there are three types of SEZs -- information technology (IT), single-product or sector-specific, and multi-product.
"The IT SEZ is like the economy class seats offered by airlines while the sector-specific SEZs are like the business class seats. The multi-product SEZs are the first class seats occupied by very premium passengers. The challenge is in attracting industries for the multi-product SEZs," he pointed out.
According to Sannareddy, with the slowdown in the global economy and the Indian economy being on the growth path, Sri City is getting more enquiries for locating plants in the DTZ.
"I don't anticipate any major effect in India owing to US policy changes when (Donald) Trump takes over as President. Trump may not be favourable to China," he said.
With five seaports -- Chennai, Kamarajar, Kattupalli, Krishnapattnam and Durgarajupatnam -- and two international ports (Chennai and Tirupati) nearby, 450MW of uninterrupted power, low land cost and faster decision-making at the government level, Sri City is giving Tamil Nadu's industrial estates a run for their money.
"We actually complement and benefit Tamil Nadu. For instance, many people who were rendered jobless after the closure of the Nokia factory in Sriperumbudur have been employed at Foxconn in Sri City. People live in Tamil Nadu but work here," Sannareddy pointed out.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, while inaugurating the US-based food, confectionery and beverages giant Mondelez International's plant here, had said that the government would develop Sri City, Nellore and Tirupati as a tri-city industrial corridor.
Looking back, Sannareddy said: "We did certain things right at the right time. In 2008, when recession hit, we decided to invest on developing infrastructure so that we are ready to receive investors during better times."
The local community is also happy as the people are able to find steady jobs and incomes in Sri City units, increased earning opportunities, increasing property value and improved social infrastructure.
"Earlier people used to go as casual labourers to the nearby industrial units in Gummudipoondi (in Tamil Nadu). They would not get work on a steady basis. But with the advent of several factories in Sri City there is steady work for people in Tada," a taxi driver told IANS.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)