08 Aug 2017 19:22 IST

Indians’ love affair with Texas

With lower taxes and better opportunities, the Indian diaspora is gravitating towards this Southern state

During the last 20 years, something remarkable has been happening to the state of Texas. It has become a powerful magnet for the Indian diaspora community in the US, attracting families from previous Indian strongholds such as New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Connecticut, California, Illinois and Ohio.

For diaspora populations that have left their distant homelands, putting down roots in a foreign country often involves factors related to convenience — such as the location of their first jobs or the location of the family that sponsored them to immigrate — rather than to emotional ties with parents, siblings, friends or property.

Having moved halfway around the world, a city in New Jersey looks just as appealing as one in Illinois — because everything is so new. Many Indians are professionals — doctors, engineers, small-business owners — and being naturally friendly, they quickly develop networks with other professionals and families in their new home-towns as they gradually settle in.

Priorities and taxes

State governments in these historic strongholds, however, are liberal in their tax and spend priorities. They all impose a state income tax. Some cities, like New York and Washington DC, add a city tax on top — and the burden can add up to 10 per cent of a household’s income.

Diaspora families see that these exorbitant tax payments don’t mean much to their quality of life, because roads continue to stay congested and crime is high in the inner cities. These states tend to spend huge budgets on social welfare programmes, public health and education — expenditures that do not directly help the Indian families. The Indian community in the US is, after all, one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the nation.

Population densities in these locales are high too. Which means that real estate is prohibitively expensive for starter families buying their first home. In Silicon Valley, near San Francisco, 3-BR independent homes list for not less than $1 million. These are not new homes either — some of them were built 50 years ago!

Then, there is the weather. All of these strongholds, with the exception of Northern California, have long winters, and hot summers. Children are locked into homes, schools and recreation centres for months during winter, unable to go out and play.

As jobs began to get outsourced to foreign countries and telecommuting became more common, these Indian families began to evaluate if there were ways to improve their quality of life by making small adjustments to their professional lives. This is when moving to Texas became a popular option because the state has a solution to every single problem mentioned above.

Texas has no income-tax. So, for the average family moving in from a highly taxed state, this automatically translates to a raise of 10 per cent.

Huge economy

It is also a huge economy and, had it been a sovereign country, it would be the 10th largest economy in the world by GDP (ahead of South Korea and Canada). The state is rich in mineral resources and oil, and the franchise taxes it generates from these assets help underwrite state budgets.

Texas is also huge in size, at more than a fifth of India’s land area, and there’s plenty of space available. Because of its milder winter, home construction is an activity which happens around the year. This means that there’s more inventory of homes, which translates to lower prices. A brand new 5-BR home with a two-car garage, some 3,500 sq ft of living space and a backyard of about 4,000 sq ft can be bought in the suburbs of Dallas or Houston for about $450,000. A similar home in New York or California will cost over $3 million.

Add to these considerations the philosophy of the state government, and one can understand why most Indians are choosing to settle in Texas. Since its founding, the state has been known to be extremely conservative in its outlook and believes that most people should take care of themselves. Public spending for welfare pales in comparison with nanny states like California and New York, and more money is, instead, spent on infrastructure through public private partnerships and business development.

Business-friendly

The Texas approach to business is extremely friendly. Tort laws punish litigants, because in Texas, the loser pays the cost of frivolous lawsuits. Suing a doctor’s office for wilful malpractice is not an easy thing to do here. The state aggressively recruits companies to resettle in Texas because it is easier to do business. This is why Texas alone was creating more jobs during the Great Recession, than the remaining 49 states combined.

And companies continue to respond to this environment. Toyota, whose North American headquarters were in California’s Bay Area, decided to move to sprawling Plano. Google, Apple, Amazon, Dropbox and Oracle all recently built or expanded campuses in Austin. Fifty-two Fortune 500 companies call Texas their home, tied with New York and second only to California with 54 companies. Houston continues to be a mecca for the energy and healthcare industries.

The network effect

Aggressive economic activity such as this cannot happen if there are no workers who are willing to relocate. Indian families are chasing these opportunities and moving to Texas en masse. The network effect is crucial here. When more Indian families move, more Indian grocery stores are set up, more temples are built. Businesses catering to Indian diaspora families — such as Carnatic music schools and Bharatnatyam dance academies — flourish. Both Dallas and Houston boast of multiple Hindi language FM and AM radio stations, beaming on a 24/7 schedule, with weekend programmes set aside for regional languages. Any tour of Bollywood stars is incomplete without a stop in Dallas or Houston.

For Indian professionals who travel for work, such as consultants and marketers, it does not matter which city they work out of because they are on the road four to five days a week anyway. Both Dallas and Houston are huge airport hubs (American Airlines and Southwest, for Dallas; United for Houston), so these professionals prize the frequent non-stop flight schedules which can get them anywhere in the country in less than three hours.

Something for everyone

There are other considerations too. Texas is a motorcyclist’s paradise. The weather is bike-friendly for nearly eight months a year and the state has an excellent network of rural four-lane and two-lane roads to complement the interstate highways.

And when it comes to natural wonders, there’s something for everyone. Kids can have outdoor activities for the entire year, save for the three extremely hot summer months. Even then, evenings are cool enough to get out and play.

Texas was at one time a country (the Republic of Texas) and that gun-toting pride of independence is present in every native Texan. Indians, who are generally patriotic themselves having been raised on a diet of Bollywood songs such as Mere Desh Ki Dharti, easily adjust to this native spirit.

Texan pride is often the focus of many jokes, such as this: A Texan is watering plants in his backyard when his 10-year-old son comes running in. “Dad, I just spoke with our new neighbours, the Johnsons.”

The Texan responds, “Great, son, did you give them a warm Texan welcome?”

“Indeed, Dad. But I didn’t really have to. They’re from Texas too.”

“Well, how do you know?”

“I asked them” responds the son, defensively.

“Now, now, son”, says the Texan, shaking his head and moving his hose pipe over to a bush of rose plants. “I’ve told you this several times. Never, ever ask anyone if they’re from Texas. Because, if they are, they will tell you. If they’re not, you just don’t want to embarrass them.”