Mr Suresh Sambandam, Founder & CEO, Kissflow, discusses the Trillion-Dollar Dream for Tamil Nadu with Ms Yagna Balaji, Former CEO, DT Next, Daily Thanthi Group.
When you talk about an industrialised state, immediately what comes to our mind is either Maharashtra or Gujarat. But Tamil Nadu is the most industrialised state in the entire country and we beat Maharashtra by 10,000 industries. 17% of factories of the entire India are in Tamil Nadu. We have 16% of the workforce of the entire country in Tamil Nadu. 50% of the leather production of the country and 30% of the automobile production of India are from Tamil Nadu. The state contributes to 19% of India’s textiles, 18% of electronics and 15% of heavy machinery.
In GSDP terms, Tamil Nadu is number two and Maharashtra is number one. The headquarters of most of the companies are located in Mumbai. So, everything gets aggregated there. The stocks of companies of all the 30 states are centrally traded in Bombay Stock Exchange. If you reapportion all of those values back to respective states, we will actually be number one.
GER, the Real Measure
Most of the time, people look at education in terms of literacy rate. But the real measure for education is not literacy rate but the gross enrolment ratio (GER) for higher education. Here, Tamil Nadu does two times better than the Indian average. Tamil Nadu’s population has equal percentage of men and women. The higher education enrolment number in Tamil Nadu for women and men are exactly the same. In two years, women will outdo men. It has not happened in any other state. It’s a phenomenal milestone. Without taking women to the next level, no society can grow up.
When it comes to healthcare, the World Health Organization says for every 1000 people, you need a doctor. American standard is 500 to one but in Tamil Nadu, we have 250 to one, which is four times better than the WHO norms and two times better than the American data. Tamil Nadu is the healthcare capital for not just India, but Southeast Asia.
There is no point in developing GDP if the wealth is not distributed. To find wealth distribution, there is a metric called household income. If there is more middle class in a society than the rich and the poor, that indicates equitable wealth distribution of the society. Tamil Nadu is number one in that. We have 60% middle class. Tamil Nadu is not living in villages anymore, because 60% are already living in urban centers and this number is going to grow only more. The other thing that I’m most proud of Tamil Nadu is we don’t have caste surnames. It is the only state which doesn’t have caste surnames. It is impossible to do economic revolution without the foundation of social revolution.
In 2022, Government of India published (SDG) Sustainable Development Goals. Out of 16 SDG goals, we are 12 green, three yellow and one red. Andhra comes second, Karnataka third, Maharashtra is fourth and Gujarat is at five. If you look at Gujarat or Maharashtra, they are more focused on economic growth and not so much focused on social growth. West Bengal and Kerala are more focused on social growth. We need a balanced approach of socialism and capitalism. Otherwise, we will ruin the state. That is the model that has taken Tamil Nadu to the north star position and driven us to where we are right now.
The Four Master Strokes of Tamil Nadu
- There were only 6000 schools after independence. In one stroke, Kamaraj, then CM of Tamil Nadu added 22,000 schools in just a 10-year period. Only 40% of the students were going to school. He could double that over 10 years.
- We look at a generation as 25 years. When a generation finishes school, we want them to finish their college education also. From only 40 engineering colleges, in another 20 years, we reached 550 engineering colleges. That’s a phenomenal milestone. 37 of the top 100 colleges in India are in Tamil Nadu. One of the differentiating factors for Tamil Nadu is we focussed on social justice which none of the other states did. Everybody got the opportunity, both in jobs and education.
- As Tamil Nadu adopted a two-language policy, English became more prominent. So, people from Tamil Nadu do not go to jobs for Mumbai or Delhi. They go to San Francisco, London, New York or places in Europe, as our youth got the space to learn English. I truly believe that nobody should discard their mother tongue, but they should learn English.
Tamil Nadu has been growing only at 10%. To get to a trillion dollar, we need 40% increase on compounded aggregated growth rate (CAGR), which is not at all easy. Now, this year, we are pretty close to 15% growth.
Entrepreneurship and Branding
As a fifth master stroke, we must focus on entrepreneurship. Governments don’t create jobs. They just govern. The jobs are created by startups, companies and businesses. More importantly, we need women entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship means brands. If you have a brand or an IP, it will work for you even when you sleep. We need to move away from just a service provider economy to a brand owner economy and that will be a paradigm shift. That’s when you will get to a trillion dollar dream. We need to inclusively grow Tamil Nadu state and not just Chennai or Coimbatore or Madurai. We need to have this growth in every city.
Ideas for Each Region
In Ramanathapuram, there are one crore palm trees. We just sell palm by the road side. We should do branded palm juice which is tastier and healthier. We make palm candy and sell it. Combined with cocoa, we can make palm chocolate. 12,000 tons of chili powder is harvested every year. We just grind this and sell it as chilli powder or masala. We know of Tabasco sauce. A small bottle with quantity around 50 ml costs 200 rupees. This company makes 12,000 crores business. The opportunities are right in front of us but we do not know how to transform them to great opportunities.
In Krishnagiri, we have mango production. The pulp industries extract the pulp and throw the outer skin. We can use this skin, make vegan leather and build branded products. 90,000 tons of vegetables are manufactured in Dharmapuri. They go all the way in trucks to Bangalore and then get sold there, because the market is there. It then comes back to us for sale in Tamil Nadu. But the scary thing is they go with all the junk. For example, if you take a cauliflower, the edible portion is only 50% and the non-edible portion is the remaining 50%. We can use the non-edible portion as manure in the fields. Also, we can sell cut, packaged and branded vegetables. They can be preserved five times higher than the regular vegetables. We can use the straw from paddy fields and make compressed straw boards. All you need to put is veneer on top of it, so it looks beautiful. From Hogenekal, we get our sea food. We must sell them as branded sea food instead.
Make Hosur a Sejong
Between Krishnagiri and Bangalore, there is 100 kilometer of highway and we can put wind turbines right in the middle along the divider and each one of the wind turbines can produce electricity out of the moving buses. In Villupuram, we grow ground nuts. We take the kernel and the husk is thrown away. The fact is that the husk has 6% hydrogen and there is a process to extract hydrogen from that. From green gram, we can make healthy waffles.
For Hosur, we have come up with a different idea. Hosur should be a self- governed state like Sejong in South Korea. The reason is, Hosur along with Bengaluru has the potential to become a twin city like San Francisco and San Jose. Hosur has the entire manufacturing infrastructure for EVs, AI and Robotics.
In Tirunelveli, we have lot of wind mills and also Koodangulam nuclear plant. We can use this clean power for data centres through cables. We have a lot of windmills but there is no component manufacturing infrastructure for windmill manufacturers. Tirunelveli is where all the cooker industries are located. They make traditional cookers. But they can move to smart cookers which can be operated on internet. From millets, we should make branded batter like ID.
In Thiruvannamalai, there is a mountain and there are a lot of herbs that grow there. We can make tablets from them to cure liver diseases. In Cuddalore, we have jackfruits and cashew plantation. Nothing stops us from making a Tropicana like product from jackfruit. Cuddalore is the cashew hub of the state. We make all the cashews and export. But after taking the nut, we throw away all the fruits as useless. We can make export quality liquor from these fruits.
The goal for trillion dollar dream is to build these brands. There are at least 10 or 15 brands which are doing really well now. To grow the economy from 300 billion to 1 trillion, all we need is to build 150 brands. That will automatically create at least 10 lakh jobs.