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Tuesday, Apr 27, 2004

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Pune sets a scorching pace

Sudha Menon

Tata Motors' tie-up with British car manufacturer MG Rover to make small cars for the European market and Bharat Forge's acquisition of a European forging company to emerge as become the second largest forging company in the world, has put the city's business firmly on the global map.

OXFORD of the east, cultural capital of the State, pensioners' paradise, queen of the Deccan. Pune city has for decades carried with grace and charm the various sobriquets that have attached themselves to its name.

Asli Punekars will swear that there is no place like it to make one's home, educate the children, carve out careers, enrich themselves culturally and eventually put up their legs and enjoy their retirement in peace. And while all this is true, other Puneiites will also tell you that the city has undergone an amazing transition over the last decade.

Time was when the well-heeled Mumbaiite would head towards Pune just when he was approaching retirement and procure a charming retreat away from the hustle, bustle and rat race of the metropolis. And Puneiites having completed their education would head towards the latter to chart out a career. Its proximity to Mumbai and the goodies that the city offered to Puneiites always in a sense proved to the city, which has always been labelled Mumbai's country cousin. It is okay to retire and come to Pune but if living life is what you want to do, then Mumbai is where you have to be is the popular refrain. But those are things of the past. The last decade has seen the city grow and transform itself at a pace that has left old time Puneiites and city fathers breathless.

Engineering hub

The city, which has traditionally been one of the fastest growing engineering hubs in the country and home to the likes of Tata Motors and Bajaj Auto among others, now has more feathers in its cap than just these. Tata Motors' tie-up with British car manufacturer MG Rover to make small cars for the European market and Bharat Forge's acquisition of a European forging company to emerge as become the second largest forging company in the world, has put the city's business firmly on the global map.

An estimate by the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (MCCIA) says that 60 new companies have set up shop in the city in the recent past creating10,000 new jobs in sectors as varied as IT, engineering, food processing, management, horticulture and floriculture. The last few years have seen the city develop into a major destination for the information technology industry which have arrived here in droves, drawn by its large, skilled talent pool, its work-friendly culture and also the life-style opportunities it offers.

IT boom

MCCIA drew up a master plan to develop the city into an IT hub a decade back and the software exports from the city recently crossed the $1-billion mark. The city is home to some of the biggest IT players today. With phase one and two of its ambitious software technology park already fully completed, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) has now commenced work on acquiring land for phase three.

While the software service and BPO industry has traditionally driven the IT growth in Pune, a core group of majors in the IT space are now working towards ensuring that future growth is fuelled by its ability to develop technology and products. "That is the real challenge for all of us who are striving to make Pune city the chosen destination for anybody with a game plan in the IT sector,'' says Mr Anand Khandekar, MCCIA's IT committee and head honcho at Cradle Technologies.

Companies like Neilsoft are already headed in the right direction what with it providing hi-end design work for OEMs and boasting of the likes of DaimlerChrysler, General Motors and Nissan among its clients.

Players in the IT-enabled services have also been quick to home in and leverage the city's graduate, English speaking talent pool. HSBC Bank's development centre in India is based out of here while other major players such as EXI, mSource, Convergys, and vCustomer have set up shop and is now charting out ambitious expansion plans for next year. An estimated 15,000 jobs are likely to be created in the city in the BPO space alone next year and the figure is expected to rise exponentially in the next couple of years.

Real estate on upswing

The city's real estate market, which went into a tailspin a few years ago is now back with a bang buoyed by the demand for huge amount of commercial space required by the IT industry. Builders have been quick on the uptake and an estimated one million sq ft of space is being custom built for IT players who want their offices to be within the city limits as against the technology park which is in the outskirts.

The real estate market is also on the upswing because a large community of middle and upper middle class, loaded with disposable incomes coming in from their IT and call centre jobs and aspiring for life styles that their sojourns abroad have exposed them to, are opting to buy stylish apartments in townships that have everything from swimming pools, gyms, squash courts to recreation centres.

``The beauty of these townships are that even if both parents areaway at work, kids are under no threat because their playtime and recreation activities are always within the complex which have round -the-clock security,'' says Mr Satish Magar, Managing Director of MagarpattaCity, a sprawling, integrated IT campus with a residential complex built within for its employees. ``Walking to work is now finally a reality for those living here,'' he adds.


One of the catalysts for Pune's make over from a city of laid back soul into a vibrant, rapidly growing industrial centre with a global outreach, is the Maharashtra State Road Transport Development Corporation's (MSRDC) ambitious Mumbai-Pune expressway. The multi-crore project was constructed against the backdrop of much public outcry, especially by environmental groups who pointed out that it would cause enormous damage to the fragile eco-system of the verdant ghat section.

And while environmental concerns still remain, the expressway has paved the way for investments into the city, which is now only a couple of hours drive away from the metropolis. Always under constraint because it does not have an international airport, the city's corporate community have for years been pointing out that growth to its full potential will not happen unless the city is well-connected.

After years of dragging its feet, the Government has now given the go-ahead for the city to have a full -fledged domestic airport which Puneiites are hoping, will be a reality in the next 2-3 years. The expressway, meanwhile, has made it possible for prospective investors and entrepreneurs to arrive in Mumbai, drive down to Pune in a couple of hours, check out its potential or sign on the dotted line and hit the metropolis, all within the same day!

The heavy load on the infrastructure due to a vehicular population, which has grown exponentially and other irritants such as poor quality of power and its shortage has been vexing citizens for the last couple of years. And while industry body represented by the CII's western region is hoping that a long - pending proposal to allow industrial estates to have group captive power plants will be approved soon, Puneiites are hoping that this will release precious and scare power being used by large consumers in the corporate sector.

``Managing the power situation in the city, ensuring that the satellite industrial estates that have come up around it which today is the base for a host of multinationals and closer home, getting the traffic and infrastructure issues resolved are some of the focus areas for us in the next couple of year,'' says Mr Pradeep Bhargava, CII's Western region chief and Managing Director of Newage Electricals. And while industrial growth and inflow of investments into it might be indicative of change and growth nothing can be a more striking symbol of the city's transformation than its social fabric and lifestyle.

New age look

The city, once known for its academically inclined population who lived a peaceful life with lights early is now history. Pune's young and old are letting their hair down and enjoying themselves like never before.

Pav wadas and coffee or a south Indian meal in a popular udipi place have give made way for the city's denizens who are suddenly experimenting with sushi, pasta, paella and other global cuisine washed down with fine wines in chic, new age restaurants run by entrepreneurs who are clued in on what the young and the beautiful need.

Which is also the reason why the city is suddenly witnessing another new phenomenon the sudden mushrooming of a number of resto-bars and lounge bars which allow the young at heart and the trendy to chill out in the company of friends over a few drinks, good food and the music they like to groove with. At last count the city had at least eight such chill-out zones and some of the large brands from Mumbai are now believed to be making a beeline to the city to tap the growing market for the good life here.

The market has been quick on the uptake and are tapping the penchant for the good life that the city's denizens have developed with the result that the average Puneiite who would shop conservatively from small family stores on Laxmi Road, now shop at branded retail outlets such as Shoppers Stop, Westside, Piramyd (which is planning to add another store in Pune) among others. Pune has everything.

"Good career opportunities, good education, a variety of options for entertainment and the added bonus is that the lifestyle is as good as any metropolis can have, minus the hassles of living in one,'' says Dr. Jaisingh Shinde, a surgeon who runs one of the city's prominent hospital.

Picture by Paul Noronha

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