In mid-October, more than 30 architects flew from points around the U.S. to Chennai, India, where they began a five-day, three-city trade mission organized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The purpose of the mission was to encourage the export of American architectural services to India, whose government plans to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure between now and 2017.
Photo courtesy path21 architecture
Participating architects visited Chennai, Kolkata, and Bangalore. They met developers and government officials to learn about business opportunities and networked with local architects to discuss potential partnerships. (Indian regulations require that foreign architects partner with local firms.) High-potential sectors include master planning, transportation, and healthcare.
The AIA began organizing the mission with the Commerce Department more than a year ago, says Jessica Salmoiraghi, the AIA’s director of federal relations. To help meet President Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports between 2010 and 2015, the federal agency approached professional associations that might want to export their services in new ways. The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration awarded the AIA a grant of nearly $300,000—which the AIA is obligated to match two to one—to support this mission and two more, to India and Sri Lanka in 2013 and 2014, as well as trainings that will help U.S. architects win jobs in India.
Architects on the trip paid for their own travel and accommodation, plus a fee of nearly $5,000 per firm. Despite the cost, about 50 firms applied, a sign of architects’ strong interest in India as an emerging market. The Commerce Department ran the selection process and chose representatives from a range of small to large firms. Commerce officials arranged about 300 one-on-one meetings for the five days of the mission, after screening for “viable businesspeople who had viable projects, and [local] architects who were serious about partnering,” says Mickey Jacob, the AIA’s 2013 president and “ambassador” on the mission.
Participant Jim Jose, of Denver’s path21 architecture, agrees that the opportunities were abundant—and solid. “They’re shovel-ready projects. These guys have millions of square feet ready to go,” says Jose. Jose’s firm specializes in healthcare, senior living, and master planning. It hasn’t worked in India before, but is shifting its focus there from Abu Dhabi, where activity is subsiding, he says. He believes that his firm’s expertise in healthcare design will serve the Indian market well—on the trip, he learned of hospitals being designed by hospitality architects. “As we dug deeper, we realized their access to quality healthcare design and architects is limited.”
Jose and his partner Bill Turner returned home with about 120 leads. “We have a top 10, and feel three could be contracted in the next three to four months,” Jose says, adding, “But we don’t celebrate until we have a contract.”
Amanda Kolson Hurley is a writer in Washington, D.C.
An earlier version of this story misstated the terms of the Commerce Department's grant to the AIA.