India has suffered one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks, with the third-highest number of cases and a 16.5% GDP contraction in the second quarter of 2020. 

Tamil Nadu, India’s most industrialised state and its second-largest by GDP, has historically grown more quickly than the rest of the country. Neeraj Mittal, CEO of Guidance Tamil Nadu, a local investment promotion agency, believe that the state’s adoption of digital tools, large middle class and electronics manufacturing industry will help spur its recovery.

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Q: How did Guidance Tamil Nadu attract new investments during the height of the pandemic? 

A: We are open 24 hours a day, which means we receive an email and we respond within 24 hours of any query. We have a young and energetic team of about 50 people from various disciplines, and they are able to handle a lot of investments. Over [the past] three or four months, we have brought investment of over $4bn into the state.

Q: What digital tools has Guidance Tamil Nadu used to support its investment promotion activities these past few months?

A: Specifically reacting to the situation arising from Covid, we have used remote video conferencing tools and have set up help lines to reach out to investors. We have used Google surveys to get land parcel coordinates, used [geographic information system] maps to convey information which [investors] otherwise would get by coming to the site. We have used technology, like drones, for pictures to show people their pieces of land.

Apart from that, our approach has always been to become faceless and touchless, we have been massively trying to digitalise the entire government-to-business interface. Today we have about 36 services which are digital, but by May next year we will have about 236 services. 

We launched something called BizBuddy. People can put in any request for help from the government of Tamil Nadu – any department – and we take the role of assigning it to that department and following it up.

Q: Do you see tensions between China and India as a threat, reducing Chinese investment into Tamil Nadu, or as an opportunity, allowing the state  to attract companies leaving China?

I look at it a little differently. I look at it as a greater chance for me to project the strength of Tamil Nadu to potential investors from any part of the world. The changes in the supply chains globally are just a passing phenomena. We would like Tamil Nadu to be placed on the map so that we can attract really large investments. So there is definitely an opportunity here, just as when we do personal financial investments, it's always a good idea to diversify your risks. So we see this game play out both ways.

Q: Tamil Nadu is India’s most industrialised state, and it is the second-largest state in India by GDP. What sets it apart from other Indian states?

A: We have the largest number of factories in the entire country. We produce roughly one million graduates [and] we have a very good state policy to support infrastructure. All these things put together project the strength of Tamil Nadu to investors.

Q: Are you expecting a V-shaped or a U-shaped recovery in Tamil Nadu?

A: There is no denying that the GDP will contract. But I believe in the strength of the Indian middle class, especially the highly urbanised middle class here in Tamil Nadu. I think we might have a quick recovery very soon, that’s my hope for Tamil Nadu.  

At the national level, it would depend on a lot of other factors. The government has launched several programmes like Atmanirbhar Bharat [or self-reliant India] and Make in India, and these programs have a lot of potential to kick-start growth.

The government has announced special production-linked incentives for electronics manufacturing, which Tamil Nadu is really well positioned to take advantage of because we are the second largest electronics manufacturing state in India.

Neeraj Mittal is the CEO of Guidance Tamil Nadu, the investment promotion agency of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. 

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