By John Schaffner
Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos, right, welcomes Abassador Meera Shankar.

Sandy Springs welcomed India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ms. Meera Shankar April 30 at a luncheon at Cox Enterprises headquarters that was truly befitting royalty.

To a non-expert, the food seemed to be absolutely authentic Indian cuisine and there seemed to be no complaints from the 75 or so attending the event honoring the ambassador. Most of those attending were either members of the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, which arranged the event, or represented companies here that do business internationally and with India.

Many of the business executives had names denoting Indian heritage.

We understand that the International Committee of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce and the city of Sandy Springs worked very hard over a short period of a few weeks to put this luncheon event together—to bring Shankar to Sandy Springs and excite her and the Indian government about this area for a potential future consulate and for building business and trade partnerships here.

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos was there delivering a gracious welcome to the ambassador and her delegation and presenting the ambassador with a key to the city of Sandy Springs.

While our local public officials and business leaders sought to sell Sandy Springs to the Indian ambassador, her message was of the economic viability of India in the world marketplace and her country’s interest in building business and trade relationships and business partnerships with U.S. companies and the U.S. government.

She said her country is rebounding from tough economic years in 2007 and 2008—with a freeze in credit in 2008. “India could become the third largest economy globally,” the ambassador said.

Without using any notes, she spoke of growth projections for her country of 7.5 percent to possibly 8.5 percent this year. “Development is at the core of our national concerns,” she told the group. She said there is a rebound of industry and manufacturing in India, which she explained is unusual because India had been strong in service.

“Manufacturing in India is beginning to take off,” she stated.

Citing the introduction of the Nano car, she added, “India is bringing to the table low-cost high-tech.” She said there is an expanding use of IT in general in India.

She stated that the United States is the largest partner in technology trade with India. And, she said India’s trade doubled between 2004 and 2008. “Opportunities for trade and economic links grow better,” said explained.

Her message seemed of keen interest to those business leaders who attended—representatives of Delta Air Lines, UPS, Novelis, BellSouth, Wendy’s/Arby’s Group (which recently announced it plans most of its growth in international markets), Church’s Chicken, Wipro Technologies, Cisco Systems and, of course, the event sponsors Cox Enterprises, Inc. and BellSoft, Inc., just to name a few.

Following her formal presentation to the group, Ambassador Meera Shankar was asked from the audience what it would take to get India to open a consulate in Sandy Springs.

The ambassador answered: “The Indian government has announced the setting up of a consulate. I think you have to talk to the U.S. government on this, because they are linking the question of permission with a large number of other issues. That is making this difficult. So, we don’t know when we will have permission to open,” she added.

I have to say that I was impressed with the quality of the event that welcomed Shankar to Sandy Springs and the turnout of local business leaders—especially considering it was all pulled together in somewhat short notice. And for the ambassador, Galambos said it well: “She is a brilliant woman and an exceptional representative for her country and government.”

What appeared to me to be missing from those sitting around the tables and greeting the Indian visitors were representatives of the Sandy Springs government—in addition to Mayor Galambos—and the top ranking officers of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber, which helped organize the event.

The chamber’s chairperson, Debbie Goldman was traveling out of town on business and could not attend, as was George Bergmark, chair of the chamber’s International Committee. However, the chamber’s President Sheri Wilburn was on the attendee list, but was a no-show.

It seems to me this was too important an economic development event for Sandy Springs for the city government and the chamber to not have had a greater presence at the event. After all, we are trying to become the “Global Gateway.”