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`We're catching up'

Vipin V. Nair

The Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala is making up for a slow start. It is now gaining ground steadily.

FROM the top-floor restaurant, you can see a green sea of coconut palms and beyond that, the Arabian Sea as a blue borderline. One of the best ways to spend time, soaking in the natural beauty.

But those who come here don't seem to enjoy the luxury of sitting through for long hours, as they need to rush back to their work desks. Not surprising, since they all work for various IT companies in Technopark, Kerala's premier infrastructure facility for infotech firms.

Technopark's present site in the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram would have been an ideal place for a luxury hotel, surrounded as it is by Kerala's trademark greenery. And for a long time, perhaps the only claim to fame for Technopark was its spectacular surroundings, more than anything else. It failed to attract any big name in the IT industry as Kerala never really figured in the IT map of India.

Things are changing, and changing fast. Technopark, set up the Kerala Government in 1994, is about to achieve a landmark since it commenced operations: the total employee base of the park is nearing the 10,000 mark. This feat puts Technopark among the leading IT parks of India, such as Bangalore's International Technology Park, Hyderabad's Hi-Tec City and Chennai's Tidel Park.

That Technopark is the largest employee base in Kerala's capital - Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) was hitherto the largest employer there - came out during a recent survey conducted by the park authorities. "We have found that there are 9,600 IT professionals in Technopark," says an official. Given the pace at which IT companies hire people, this number will cross 10,000. Currently, there are 79 companies in the park.

Though one of the first such facilities in India, for a long time Technopark was never looked upon by the Indian software or BPO sectors as a suitable place to be in. Kerala's image of an `industrially-unfriendly State' haunted it. Most of those who came to check out the place admired its facilities and picturesque surroundings, and went away. For them, Kerala then was not just the right place.

The result was that Technopark had to be content with slow growth and was predominantly occupied by local companies. The only exception was Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) which put up its training centre here.

"We struggled to reach the 5,000 employee mark and it took nearly seven years to reach that figure," the Technopark official says, recalling the early days.

However, when the Indian IT and BPO sectors boomed, availability of quality space became an issue. Also, rising salaries and infrastructure costs in cities such as Bangalore forced companies to look at smaller cities to set up their units. Besides, they were forced to set up facilities in different geographies as a disaster-recovery mechanism at the behest of their clients.

There onwards, it took barely three years for Technopark to double the number of its people to the present level. Companies such as US Technologies and IBS Software, which bravely decided to work out of Thiruvananthapuram rather than flocking to Bangalore or Hyderabad, are now thriving. A number of multinationals such as Allianz Cornhill and Ernst and Young have also set up BPO operations in Technopark.

A big shot in the arm for Technopark came when Infosys Technologies decided to set up a software development centre there. Today, Infosys has 400 people in its Technopark unit and the number is projected to be around 900 by the year-end. The software major has also acquired a 50-acre land adjacent to Technopark to set up its own campus.

TCS also is expanding its operations in Technopark. It has taken up a 26-acre plot where a 5,000 people facility is expected to come up. Local biggies US Technologies and IBS are also in expansion mood. And if you want any space in Technopark, sorry, its 1.5 million sq.ft built-up space is full, and you will have to wait till a new facility, Tejaswini, gets completed. In addition to this, the Government is considering acquiring another 100 acres to expand Technopark.

But can we say that Technopark is a complete success? May be not, at least on one count. Annual software exports from Kerala were a little over Rs 300 crore last year. Compare this with Karnataka's Rs 27,600 crore, Tamil Nadu's Rs 10,743 crore and Andhra Pradesh's Rs 8,270 crore, and you will realise that though Technopark is fully occupied, and Kerala has been able to attract major software firms, the State has a lot of catching up to do. And a 10,000-employee base at Technopark is a good start to achieve that.

vipin@thehindu.co.in

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