COLUMBIA, S.C. — Newly re-elected Gov. Nikki Haley is leading South Carolina's first trade trip to India in hopes of persuading companies in her parents' native country to bring jobs to South Carolina.
The Republican governor leaves Tuesday, one week after her landslide victory, for a 10-day mission trip involving the state's commerce and tourism agencies.
"Of course, Gov. Haley is pretty well known to people in India now," said Commerce Director Bobby Hitt. "There's a lot of excitement among our partners in India in advance of her visit, and we think this trip will go a long way toward putting our state on the map with Indian companies and decision-makers."
It marks Haley's first visit to India since she was 2 years old. Her parents emigrated from India in the early 1960s. Born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in rural Bamberg, South Carolina, Haley is the first woman of Indian heritage to become governor of a U.S. state.
When Haley won election in 2010, the small town of Verka in the Indian state of Punjab exploded in celebration. Her win became the top story on Indian TV stations.
But there are no plans for Haley to visit relatives on this trip. Instead, Haley is slated to attend 40 of the delegation's 90 scheduled meetings and events. The delegation's 18 members, which also include representatives of businesses interested in exporting to India, are splitting their time between seven cities in six states. Haley will be traveling to New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and in Punjab, Chandigarh and Amritsar.
In her first post-win availability with reporters Thursday, Haley said her immediate focus includes the India trip, but she declined to say what it means to her personally.
"It's a brutal schedule, but we'll work hard and hopefully have something to show for it when we get back," she said.
Haley's trip comes six weeks after she traveled to New York to meet with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Embassy of India invited Haley to visit Modi as he spent five days in the United States. Her husband and parents joined her then.
But only her husband, Michael, is accompanying her to India, and he's paying his own airfare. Commerce expects to spend about $50,000 on the trip, Hitt said.
Tourism officials will work to brand South Carolina as a tourist destination, while Commerce officials meet with business leaders, particularly in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries, Hitt said.
India, an emerging market with more than 1.2 billion people, ranks 16th in capital investment in South Carolina. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, South Carolina ranks 14th nationally in total exports to India, at $352 million last year, up from $110 million in 2005.
Indian-Americans across the United States take pride in Haley, said Sanjay Puri, who leads a Washington-based bipartisan political action committee that seeks to elect Indian-Americans. Dignitaries attending Haley's 2011 inaugural included India's ambassador to the U.S., Meera Shankar.
"She's going to get a tremendous response," Puri said, adding that South Carolina will benefit from her celebrity status.
"Before Nikki Haley, I have a feeling if you asked 90 percent of the people in India, they couldn't point out South Carolina on a map, but now they probably can," said the chairman of the US India Political Action Committee. "The South Carolina brand will be much more visible in India."
Haley, 42, has mostly downplayed her gender and Indian-American heritage publicly. But she has said she understands the pride and recognizes her role-model status, particularly to girls.
In her victory speech Tuesday, she said, "As an Indian girl who grew up in Bamberg, I always looked to that small town of 3,500 people and wanted to know how I could make a difference. What makes me proud is what we proved four years ago and what we prove tonight, that there are no boundaries for any little girl or any little boy in the state of South Carolina."