The profile of India continues to rise in the US media, as does the prospect of heated controversy that this will inevitably bring in its wake. This time it's the turn of Business Week, the whole article is really well worth the read.
Except for the female engineers wearing saris and the soothing Hindi pop music wafting through the open-air dining pavilion, this could be GE's giant research-and-development facility in the upstate New York town of Niskayuna.
It's more like Niskayuna than you might think. The center's 1,800 engineers -- a quarter of them have PhDs -- are engaged in fundamental research for most of GE's 13 divisions. In one lab, they tweak the aerodynamic designs of turbine-engine blades. In another, they're scrutinizing the molecular structure of materials to be used in DVDs for short-term use in which the movie is automatically erased after a few days. In another, technicians have rigged up a working model of a GE plastics plant in Spain and devised a way to boost output there by 20%. Patents? Engineers here have filed for 95 in the U.S. since the center opened in 2000.
Pretty impressive for a place that just four years ago was a fallow plot of land. Even more impressive, the Bangalore operation has become vital to the future of one of America's biggest, most profitable companies. "The game here really isn't about saving costs but to speed innovation and generate growth for the company," explains Bolivian-born Managing Director Guillermo Wille, one of the center's few non-Indians.
The Welch center is at the vanguard of one of the biggest mind-melds in history. Plenty of Americans know of India's inexpensive software writers and have figured out that the nice clerk who booked their air ticket is in Delhi. But these are just superficial signs of India's capabilities. Quietly but with breathtaking speed, India and its millions of world-class engineering, business, and medical graduates are becoming enmeshed in America's New Economy in ways most of us barely imagine. "India has always had brilliant, educated people," says tech-trend forecaster Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif. "Now Indians are taking the lead in colonizing cyberspace."
This techno take-off is wonderful for India -- but terrifying for many Americans. In fact, India's emergence is fast turning into the latest Rorschach test on globalization. Many see India's digital workers as bearers of new prosperity to a deserving nation and vital partners of Corporate America. Others see them as shock troops in the final assault on good-paying jobs. Howard Rubin, executive vice-president of Meta Group Inc., a Stamford (Conn.) information-technology consultant, notes that big U.S. companies are shedding 500 to 2,000 IT staffers at a time. "These people won't get reabsorbed into the workforce until they get the right skills," he says. Even Indian execs see the problem. "What happened in manufacturing is happening in services," says Azim H. Premji, chairman of IT supplier Wipro Ltd. "That raises a lot of social issues for the U.S."
No wonder India is at the center of a brewing storm in America, where politicians are starting to view offshore outsourcing as the root of the jobless recovery in tech and services. An outcry in Indiana recently prompted the state to cancel a $15 million IT contract with India's Tata Consulting. The telecom workers' union is up in arms, and Congress is probing whether the security of financial and medical records is at risk. As hiring explodes in India, the jobless rate among U.S. software engineers has more than doubled, to 4.6%, in three years. The rate is 6.7% for electrical engineers and 7.7% for network administrators. In all, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 234,000 IT professionals are unemployed.