Gov. Eric Holcomb in talks with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Asian trade mission earlier this month.
Gov. Eric Holcomb in talks with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Asian trade mission earlier this month.

By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb returned from a series of four trade missions to Asian nations over the past month to South Korea, Japan, China and India on Sunday, where he witnessed the first NBA game in Mumbai involving the Indiana Pacers.

HPI asked Gov. Holcomb about the on-going trade war with China and what he was picking up on the ground while there. 

Here is our conversation that took place mid-Monday afternoon:

HPI: Certainly the trade war is a hot issue, but I have to ask what they call a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder in Beijing or Mumbai?

Holcomb: (Laughs) No. 4.

HPI: You visited these countries with international trade a prime topic. What do Hoosier farmers and manufacturers need to know as the U.S./Chinese trade talks shift into high gear this month?

Holcomb: Everywhere I went in those four countries, our hosts were overly appreciative that we came. Our partners realize, just like we do, that trade is not one-way. It’s a two-way street, particularly when you’re looking to address mutual needs, but explore mutual opportunities with each other. Rule No. 1, like in life, is show up. Anything less than that can be perceived as lazy, or worse, late. That is just not who we are. Obviously our Hoosier hospitality was matched at every stop I made. I just can’t tell you how productive those meetings were at this exact moment in history. It will not be forgotten that we were there and expressed our continued appreciation for all the investment made in our state. 

We have 38 countries who have invested in Indiana, representing just over a thousand foreign-owned companies. They employ just under 200,000 Hoosiers. I just state the obvious that we have very deep roots in our communities from businesses who have sought to locate here in the heartland. When we go, we’re there to say thank you, first and foremost, in person. Secondly, we’re there to export contextual growth, both in their country and in ours. So when Cummins is doing well in Tunay India, Cummins is doing well  in Columbus, Indiana. When Eli Lilly is dong well in China, Eli Lilly is doing well in Indiana. So we’re also there to say we want to be even more helpful to Indiana companies who are already based abroad and seek new growth opportunities there as well. 

And we’re meeting people in cultural exchange programs. Our universities have gateway programs all over the world. Notre Dame University is in charge of surveying the surface of the Taj Mahal to make sure the wear and tear erosion doesn’t occur. We’ve got 10,000 Asians students in Indiana right now. We have partnerships with various organizations and businesses and we’re growing those partnerships. We’ve tripled our direct foreign investment in Indiana just since 2016. We are growing inside out and growing outside in. When you think about the way the world is shaping up, it used to be that 80% of the world’s population lived in G7 counties in 1980. Now those G7s represent less than 50% population. The world, from a population perspective, is tilting toward Asia. It represents about 60% of the global population, so when you think a country like India and a country like China, you’re talking about 2.7 billion people. 

I jokingly referenced to Prime Minister Modi in India that everything in Indiana that starts with millions ends up billions in India, and everything in Indiana that starts with billions can be translated to trillions in India. It’s a different scale and we both face relevant challenges and opportunties. Our purpose is to find out our mutual goals and work together to solve, not just problems, but also scale up growth and opportunity for each other. That comes in various forms, like the Indiana Pacers playing basketball in Mumbai. We’re there to underscore during this time of globalization and technological advancements unlike the world has ever seen before, the scale and pace of change. Of course there’s going to be some turbulance from a trade perspective as well. People who have been around for 5,000 years like in these countries I’ve visited, they understand that this, too, will pass and we will get to a better place when we are all looking at these new, modernized trade deals.

HPI: You were on the ground in China. The trade talks begin this month ...

Holcomb: This week.

HPI: Are people optimistic that we’ll be able to forge a deal to get Hoosier soybeans back into Chinese markets?

Holcomb: What I’m hearing is that everyone wants to get a deal done. Everyone wants to make sure the deal is done right, and so there is some, of course, some pain associated to make sure we get this right. Obviously, just like the USMCA, the new NAFTA, so to speak, that was a long time in the making, going back to the 1990s. A lot has changed since NAFTA was first put into place. And needed to be. Same is true with our deals in Asia. The good news is there is optimism, not just optmism, but patience, to get it right. I experienced this in India and China. With Japan, today could be a very good day in terms of progress being made with China. These things will ultimately be resolved, but we need to make sure we’re all operating on the same playing field, that are rules based, and we’re both aiming for free and fair trade.

HPI: There are trade pacts in motion with both Japan and South Korea. What are you hearing on those?

Holcomb: We just have an enormous upside in potential with the Pacific. These are economies that are uber competitive on the technological front and obviously for a state like Indiana where we’re ranked as the No. 1 manufacturing state in the country per capita, we are looking forward to partnering with companies we already have, like Honda, Toyota, Subaru and this long supply chain that follows behind it to the tune of thousands of jobs all over the state. This is a huge potential for our world class universities to work on research and development projects with these companies and these governments. It’s also a huge potential for us to tap into those markets, which are just becoming more consumer-driven with each year that passes. I expect good things to come after being on the ground. We heard ... optimism about the Japanese trade deal which I hope we learn some news later today. We heard from the Chinese foreign minister who said he had high hopes the next round would produce  a positive outcome. He emphasized a huge opportunity, China and America working together. He stressed that America will still be the world leader for the foreseeable future and understands that we would like wider access to Chinese markets while all making sure we adhere to the deal and rules. There were a lot of positive statements from Chinese and Indian government leaders at the highest levels, the people who are making the decision, just like (Robert) Lighthizer and President Trump are here in America.

HPI: We have more than 200 Japanese companies here in Indiana. Are we expecting in the coming generation to see that kind of investment from Chinese and Indian corporations?

Holcomb: When you do the math, you would think that is a target rich environment for growth. Think about this: Infosys had a zero presence in the State of Indiana not too long ago. Infosys is on the flight path to hire 3,000 Hoosiers in our capital city. There are already 600 hires right now. Of those 600 hires, they have attracted about 60% from outside Indiana’s borders. They are, in part, the reason why from around America we are an in-migration state. It’s just a simple fact that our birth rate and death rate aren’t what they used to be. So what is the strategy to grow? Certainly one of ours is attracting people to attend one of our colleges and universities and then deciding to stay here. It’s a great state to live, work and play. We want to attract people to come and work here. That’s exactly what happened with companies ... like Infosys, which came out of India.That’s 1.3 billion Indians right now and it will certainly be more tomorrow. It’s a huge, huge potential for explosive growth in Indiana.

HPI: Are we going see the Pacer fan base go from five million to 50 million?

Holcomb: After I met with Prime Minsiter Modi, he tweeted out about our conversation and our passion for sports ... to 250.5 million followers. 

HPI: Wow.

Holcomb: The game I was able to take in was in an arena that was jammed packed with school kids.The gymnasium was filled with screaming NBA fanatics. The owner of the Sacramento Kings is of Indian descent and it was an environment that every Hoosier would have loved to have seen. They were expressing not just interest, but energy from the tip-off until the last buzzer beater to send it into overtime. There are a lot more Pacer fans in India tonight.