The Chennai way: straddling the old and new economies

The city today holds pole position in the manufacture of automobiles and auto components, textiles, leather products, and in IT-enabled services

From Madras to Chennai, this is one city which has historically embraced diversified industries and opened doors to expatriates from across the globe.

The city today holds a leadership position in the manufacture of automobiles and auto components, engineering, textiles and garments, leather products, software and IT-enabled Services.

From being a choice location for global corporations like Citibank, American Express, Ford and Caterpillar for setting up their captive technology centres to becoming the hub of large IT services companies like TCS and Cognizant, Chennai has come a long way on the road to being recognized as the hub of next-generation technology startups and software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies like Zoho and Freshworks.

Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, president, Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the oldest chambers in the country, said that as one among a handful of Indian cities to have successfully transitioned from an agrarian to manufacturing and then to a services economy, Chennai is well positioned to bring together the industrial and digital worlds to transform customer experiences. “Because of the high-quality educational institutions that provide talent at scale, Chennai is able to capitalize on the massive digital opportunity, driving higher revenue and employment, bridging the digital divide, and enhancing the State’s position on social indices.”

Currently, the IT sector alone has over 2 lakh employees on its rolls.

IT exports have more than doubled from $7.1 billion in 2007-08 to $15.57 billion in 2016-17, registering a compund annual growth rate of 8.17%

Detroit of the South

Before the IT revolution, the city had embraced a slew of automobile and auto component firms to earn the title of Detroit of the South.

Chennai is India’s largest auto hub, with an installed capacity capable of producing one car every 20 seconds (3 cars per minute) and one commercial vehicle every 90 seconds. The automobile community has also helped the city’s expat community grow. The Koreans who came with the setting up of the Hyundai plant two decades ago now number over 4,000, making them the single largest expatriate community in Chennai.

Chennai also hosts many other Korean companies, including Samsung.

Srivats Ram, managing director, Wheels India Ltd, said the industrial growth in Chennai post-liberalization has been exponential. “Most industries were on the outskirts of the city. The growth of industries brought prosperity to the communities around them and enabled expansion of the city,” he said.

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