An India-based textile factory that opened in Colleton County last year is what Gov. Nikki Haley and other state officials will be looking to replicate when they visit the populous Asian nation.
Haley is planning a 10-day "trade mission" to her parents' homeland later this year to recruit businesses and trade to South Carolina. Her key selling points will include the Port of Charleston, said Bobby Hitt, head of the S.C. Commerce Department.
"India is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. It essentially has everything there," Hitt said Monday. "We think it is time for us to go and learn our way."
The trip, which will take place after the 2014 gubernatorial election, will include four representatives from Hitt's agency and two from Haley's office. The estimated cost to taxpayers roughly $50,000 in total.
The group is also expected to be joined by officials from the private sector, Hitt added.
Haley's entourage will seek to get more India-based companies to add factories and jobs in South Carolina, as well as increase trade volume through the port, Hitt said.
The trip will include a visit to the state of Punjab, where Haley's parents were born. They came to the U.S. before her birth. She has only been to India once, when she was 2 years old.
"This will be a special trip for her," Hitt said. "We think it takes advantage of her heritage and is a plus for us."
Haley said she wasn't sure she would get a chance to sightsee or visit relatives.
"The idea of being in the country that my parents hold dear just the feeling of being there will be very strong for me," said Haley, who was born Nimrata Randhawa to Sikh parents.
"I'm not sure we're going to have any time," she said. "The last words I head from Commerce is, 'This (itinerary) is going to be brutal.'"
Hitt expects the Indian media will have a great interest in Haley, who is the first woman of Indian heritage to become a governor of a U.S. state.
India was chosen because of its potential. It ranks 16th among foreign nations in terms of export trade value with South Carolina, Hitt said.
"That's why we think there is an opportunity to take advantage" of what the state can offer, he said.
Exports between South Carolina and India last year totaled $352 million, up from $110 million in 2005, officials said. At the Port of Charleston, India is No. 3 in total cargo volume among foreign countries, according to the State Ports Authority. Exports include wood products, and imports include sheets, towels, raw cotton and automotive parts, the SPA said.
"India is an emerging market for SPA, and we expect to see continued growth of export volumes to serve the country's rising demand for American-manufactured products," said Jim Newsome, the ports authority's CEO.
The state's port system previously helped lure companies such as Sarla Performance Fibers. The Mumbai-based textile maker invested almost $14 million last year to open a yard and thread factory in Walterboro that employs about 100 workers.
Haley has already been on business recruitment trips to France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan. She has a trade trip to Canada coming up later this month.
Hitt said it's important for the governor to travel because her some of her peers also are going abroad. He pointed out that the governors of North Carolina and Alabama are heading to India this year.
"CEOs like to meet with other CEOs," Hitt said. "Gov. Haley is CEO of our state, so it makes sense that she represents us."
Haley drew some criticism about her trip to the Paris Air Show in 2011. Some critics called it a taxpayer-funded junket, berating Commerce's $160,000 spending that included expensive hotel rooms and, for the first time, renting a chalet for events.
State officials have defended the visit, saying it helped cultivate relationships with potential new employers that have since brought jobs to the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 or Twitter @TyrichardsonPC.
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