Wednesday, 30 January, 2008

Proud to be a Coimbatorian

THE industrial and textile city of Coimbatore is in the throes of a big change. For the past three years, it has witnessed ceaseless activity in every area – real estate, foundry, engineering industry, civil aviation, information technology, textiles, hospitality, health care, education and poultry farming. However, the resulting economic boom has brought in its wake a host of problems, and the optimistic mood that prevailed earlier is now tempered with caution.

If the six-laning of the arterial Avanashi Road and the cutting down of hundreds of trees lining the road for this purpose are the most visible form of activity, there are numerous entrepreneurial activities taking place quietly. For instance, the construction of a massive Trade Fair Complex with five halls and with a total built-up area of 30,000 square metres. Two halls, big enough to hold industrial exhibitions, and a food court of international standards are the latest additions. The Trade Fair Complex is the flagship project of the Coimbatore District Small Industries Association (CODISSIA). It is gearing up to host the biennial Industrial Technological Fair from February 1 to 6. About 450 participants are expected to showcase different types of CNC machines, hydraulic presses, general engineering machinery, welding machinery, construction equipment, gearboxes, motor pumps, and so on. Fourteen foreign countries are also participating.

C. Muthusami, the low-profile president of the association, said: “CODISSIA is the first district association in India to own a trade fair complex. The complex is spread over 40 acres. The entire complex has been built without any assistance from the government. The first phase, which involved the construction of three gigantic halls, was completed in just 155 days.”

In April, Suguna Kalyana Mandapam will host a “Made in Coimbatore” exhibition organised by the Lions Club of Coimbatore Gems. The city has pioneered many products – wet grinders, household appliances and domestic and irrigation pumps, to name a few.

“What is not made in Coimbatore?” asked N.S. Kumar, chairman, Yenyeskey Machine Tools, Coimbatore, who is striving to make the exhibition a success. “The people of Coimbatore themselves do not know the range of products made here. Wet grinders were first made here. Different types of textile machinery have their origins in Coimbatore.” If there was hype about Coimbatore being the second information technology hub in Tamil Nadu after Chennai, it is becoming a reality. After a delay of about 15 months, the first steps have been taken for the construction of TIDEL Park, Coimbatore (TPCL). It is a joint venture of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO), the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT), the TIDEL Park and the Software Technology Park of India (STPI). The success of the TIDEL Park in Chennai has encouraged its promoters to build a second TIDEL Park, in Coimbatore, which will be a massive plug-and-pay building complex for IT companies. It will have three basements, ground floor and four upper floors, a total built-up area of 1,61,500 sq m. Bids have been invited for building this sophisticated complex with civil and allied works at an estimated cost of Rs.140 crore. The complex will come up at ELCOT’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for IT at Vilankurichi.

The upshot is that Coimbatore is a small city and it is receiving a massive dose of unexpected development, almost suffocating it. The many-sided development looks like a virtual assault on it. But it is a self-made city and its residents have self-confidence. All industrial activities in the city are in the private sector. The entrepreneurs here, be it C. Muthusami, who manufactures electric motors in the brand name of “Monark”; R. Mylsamy, managing director of M.M. Gears Private Limited, which manufactures gears and gearboxes; N.S. Kumar, whose Yenyeskey Machine Tools manufactures machinery for making paper bags, among other things; are all self-made men. V.S. Prakasam Kummar, managing director of Arrya Hi-Tech Energy, says, “Discipline is important here. People here don’t feel comfortable discussing politics.”

K. Thangaraj, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry (southern region), Coimbatore, said: “We are back on the rails. We are going through a gestation period. We will grow. The momentum will pick up in the next 12 months. All investments will sink in.” He, however, makes it clear that Coimbatoreans “do not want a Bangalore-type situation”. Thangaraj, who is the managing director of AGT Electronics Limited, said: “We want growth without pain. We want planned growth. The CII is coordinating with the government in this matter.”

Although he estimated that Coimbatore was seeing “reasonable activity on all fronts”, he was “not so sure whether these activities are as per our expectations”. The efforts aimed at propagating Coimbatore’s virtues and projecting it as an IT hub had until now met with only partial success. This could be owing to the absence of ready-to-occupy IT parks. “You need to have a supply of built-up IT space. But we are catching up,” Thangaraj said.

Cognizant Technology Solutions has a fast-growing software unit at an IT park set up by KG Information Systems Private Limited (KGISL). Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has located a unit in Coimbatore. The government has offered land to both TCS and WIPRO at the SEZ at Vilankurichi.

In the engineering sector, Larsen & Toubro, the engineering, technology and construction major, has relocated to Coimbatore in a big way. In 2007, three L&T units, for manufacturing switchgears, high-precision tool parts and petrol dispensing pumps, went into production. These units have come up on a 300-acre site at Malumichampatti. Audco India Limited has already started manufacturing high-end industrial valves in this composite facility. Audco is a joint venture of L&T and Flowserve Corporation, United States. L&T chose Coimbatore because of its engineering base and skill. Besides, it has several thousand small and medium enterprises. Audco is reportedly sourcing materials worth Rs.250 crore every year from Coimbatore.

Robert Bosch India Limited (RBIL) has leased 21.88 acres in the SEZ at Saravanampatti from Coimbatore Hi-Tech Infrastructure Private Limited, which is part of the KG group. About Rs.250 crore will go into the making of the first phase of the Bosch facility, which will go on stream in 2009. The facility will tap opportunities in IT and IT-enabled services. Bosch associates will work on advanced technologies to design a new electric control unit for diesel and gasoline engines and other automotive applications such as portable navigation systems and AUTOSAR, the new automotive software architecture. RBIL has already established a development centre in a rented building at the KGISL facility.

Belgium-based Hansen Transmissions International NV is investing 170 million euros to manufacture gearboxes for wind turbines; the project will come up at Karumathampatti by the end of 2008. D. Balasundaram, president, of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, “Coimbatore is getting recognised as a major centre for high-quality engineering products, high-quality yarn, textiles, and garments.”

          The State government’s Industrial Policy for 2007 has proposed an SEZ on 250 acres near Coimbatore for manufacturing engineering goods such as pumps and motors and foundry products. The SEZ will be executed as a public-private partnership by local industry and the State Industries’ Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT). While the government has allotted land for this SEZ at Perunthurai as part of an existing industrial complex on the SIPCOT campus, Balasundaram and CODISSIA representatives are keen that the SEZ should be established in Coimbatore, and not at Perunthurai, which is 70 km away.

          If the domination of industrial houses’ guest house culture was a disincentive to posh hotels coming up in Coimbatore all these years, hotel chains are now making a beeline for the city with the arrival of multinational and IT companies. The Tata group is building a hotel on Race Course Road and Le Meridien is building its own on Avanashi Road. Coimbatore-based Pricol Property Development Limited and Pune-based Vascon Engineers Limited have teamed up to promote a joint venture company to build a hotel and residential-cum-commercial complex. On the infrastructure side, the six-laning of Avanashi Road from Uppilipalayam flyover to L&T bypass is under way.

Coimbatore soon will have world-class infrastructure