In recent years, Forsyth County has seen tremendous growth in the local Indian population, and this week, members of the business community discussed the impact and future of Indian-Americans in the region.
On Wednesday morning, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted its first international engagement of the year, which focused on the growth and culture of Forsyth County’s Indian community.
“The Indian population has grown a lot in Forsyth County,” said Gina Sharma, a team leader with Keller Williams Realty North Atlanta. “I moved here in 2005 from Fulton County, and over the past years, I’ve seen personally the change in Forsyth County. A lot of people are moving here from Alpharetta into Forsyth for the schools and just overall the growth that is in Forsyth County.”
Robert Long, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, said projections from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) have the population of Forsyth County at 400,000 by 2040. In that time, the minority population is expected to grow from under 20 percent of the population to about 40 percent.
“If you look at the momentum that we’re on right now, the biggest growth would be the Indian community in our community,” said Long, who earned a master’s degree in demography. “One thing ARC points out here is it is a very highly-educated group that is moving in.”
Long said part of a proposed economic development plan being worked on by the Chamber was to expand the county’s technology sector, which he said would be impossible without the Asian community.
Sharma said most Indians are involved in the tech field.
“The majority of them are in IT,” Sharma said. “They’re coming on [H-1B visas, which allows companies to hire foreign workers for specialty positions] or [L-1 visas for managerial, executive or specialized knowledge], then applying for their green cards and then settling here.”
Ani Agnihotri, program chair of the USA-India Business Summit, said Indians make up the second-largest group of foreign students in American universities, behind those from China, but said Chinese students frequently return to China while Indians are more likely to stay in the U.S.
“Ninety-five percent of the students that come here for their higher education, mostly for master’s and Ph.Ds, and then they stay, then they start contributing to the local economy,” he said.
Agnihotri said India has a massive and young population that could provide skilled, English-speaking workers ready to relocate “even at a seven-day notice” and said the majority of doctors in the United Kingdom and about 15 percent in America are of Indian descent.
“India has the youngest population in the world. About 25 percent of the population of India, which is 1.25 billion, is below the age of 25,” he said. “We will be the provider of the workforce of the world in about 15 years, after 2035.”
Sharma said there are also cultural considerations made by Indian homebuyers that some realtors may not be used to catering to.
“A lot of people are focused on direction,” she said. “So what we’ve learned over a time period is there are regions that won’t buy west, but there are certain regions that won’t buy south. In new constructions, a lot of the times, the north, east and northeast homes go fast, so that’s something when we do buyer consults with our clients, we’re asking those questions.”
She said another feature Indian customers often want is a bedroom on the main level of the house because “parents come from India and are staying here at least six months, so rather than them walking upstairs, this is a convenient feature.”
Along with getting involved with the local economy and schools, Indian-Americans are also forming civic groups, such as the Atlanta Action Center of Vibha, which supports service projects in both the U.S. and India.
“Initially, to give back to where we came from, that was the reason why we all became part of it,” said founder Vijay Vemulapalli. “But, as we are growing in this community and this country, we have seen a need, an urge, to give back to the community.”
Since 1991, the group has invested more than $16 million in projects, including $120,000 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, more than 300 ideas funded and over 800,000 children impacted directly by the programs.
One of Vibha’s biggest fundraisers and an important event in the community will be coming to Forsyth County later this year.
After previously being hosted in Johns Creek and originating at Georgia Tech, The Dream Mile Atlanta is coming to The Collection at Forsyth in September.
“This is one of the top 10 races in Atlanta right now,” Vemulapalli said. “We get 3,000 participants at the event. It’s a huge event.”
The reputation of schools in Forsyth County was a reason given by several speakers for attracting Indian-American families, and Agnihotri said he expects the number to continue to increase.
“It is true that in this part of the country, the migration of Indian-Americans is actually coming at a very rapid pace,” he said. “In Atlanta, they have chosen Forsyth, that I can say for sure. Lots of our friends are moving to the Forsyth area at a tremendous pace.”