Bellevue lobbying for new Indian consulate | City competing with Seattle to land the post
August 24, 2009 · Updated 7:31 PM
Bellevue boasts one of the highest concentrations of Asian-Indians in the state, putting it in a prime position for taking advantage of a recent trade boom with India.
The city is now competing with Seattle to land a new general consulate for the Puget Sound region. At stake is the opportunity to attract new businesses and play a prominent role with the second fastest-growing economy in the world.
U.S. exports to India have skyrocketed since 2000, increasing from $3.7 billion to $21 billion – more than 450 percent.
Indian exports to the U.S. were about the same during that period, representing a rare trade balance between America and another economic heavyweight.
"What we're doing in Bellevue is trying to position ourselves so our businesses can benefit from this opportunity," said Bellevue economic development manager Tom Boydell.
Aerospace and technology companies, as well as professional- and financial-services groups, stand to benefit the most from this new trade relationship, according to Boydell.
Agriculture isn't far behind. Exports of edible fruits and nuts from Washington matched the dollar value of exports in aerospace parts in 2007.
This spells opportunity for local corporations, but Debadutta Dash, co-chair of the Washington State and India Trade Relations Action Committee, suggests that the Eastside business community isn't doing enough to make inroads with Indian businesses.
"I've seen a lot of business leaders from India not getting proper attention when they come here," Dash said. "People are talking about it in the news, but there's not enough action going on to translate into real business with India."
Bellevue has taken steps to encourage more relationships by starting a campaign called "Initiative India", which aims to increase economic opportunities and establish a local connection with the Indian community. The city has also partnered with various trade groups to organize workshops that focus on business with the country (click here for more info).
Bellevue already has more than a few allies in its bid to land the consulate, with 15 percent of the state's Indian population – around 6,000 people – living in the city.
"A lot of people from the Indian community have given their recommendation and said they'd pretty much prefer to see it in Bellevue," Boydell said.
Dash, who lives in Seattle, agrees. He says the presence of so many Indians on the Eastside makes Bellevue a better location for the consulate, which mainly handles passports and visas.
The nearest Indian general consulates in North America are in San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C. at this point.
Dash says that's too far when 10 Indian firms have their U.S. headquarters on the Eastside, 30 percent of the global workforce for Redmond-based Microsoft is Indian, and the State Bank of India is considering opening a branch in Bellevue.
The way things are going with the local technology industry, some say the Eastside could end up on par with Silicon Valley in terms of its Indian demographic. Bellevue's Asian-Indian population has grown 1,000 percent since 2000.
Dash says a nearby consulate office would make life easier and more comfortable for members of the Indian community.
"They'll feel like they are in the middle of home," he said. "It's a family affair kind of thing."
That doesn't mean either city will miss out by failing to land the new consulate. As Boydell puts it, the post will be a win-win for the entire region.
"Whether the consulate is in Bellevue or Seattle, it'll mean something significant for whole area," he said.