The Geography of Opportunity

By: Rajinder Dogra

India is characterised by major differences in the economic, business and socio-cultural environments between its main cities and regions. Significant variation in regional economic growth rates have emerged, leading to a widening gap between the economies and real estate markets of the more advanced regions, compared with the rest of the country

The more advanced cities of western and southern India have benefited most from the opening up of the economy over the past decade, and they are expected to continue to be the most dynamic of the coming decade.

These states contain India's wealthgenerating commercial hubs, its best quality labour pools and infrastructure, and are the most successful in attracting FDI, due to their more open business-friendly environments.

In contrast, large areas of northern and eastern India remain economically backward, including the two highly populous Ganges Basin states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (which alone contain one-quarter of India's population).

Tier I Cities
The first choice for new market entrants

Mumbai the commercial hub
Delhi the political capital
Bangalore the technology hub

Have been the pioneers of Indian real estate growth since the late 1990s. These three cities command by far the highest international profiles and have attracted a significant proportion of FDI; they provide the largest and most qualified labour pools, the best infrastructure and have developed the most advanced real estate formats.

Bangalore remains at the forefront of the global IT outsourcing trends. Delhi and Mumbai, as India's two largest city economies, have developed a diverse range of real estate activities, and as well as rapidly expanding suburban office markets, have led India's retail and residential development booms.

Tier I cities are likely to remain the preferredoption for multi-national companies entering India for the first time, and they will still be the first "port of call" for most foreign real estate investors.

Tier II Cities
Rising rapidly on the radar screen

Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune

Tier I are facing strong competition from Tier II cities. Business costs have increased and labour pools, the best infrastructure and have developed the most advanced real estate formats. labour shortages have emerged in Tier I cities, and as familiarity with India as a business location have grown, more domestic and foreign firms are now considering Tier II cities for their expansion plans, or even as their first step into India.

Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune are proving highly attractive business locations, due to their competitive business environments, human resources availability, telecommunications connectivity, quality of urban infrastructure, transparency of governance and availability of real estate. As well as attracting high value IT, ITES and biotech activities, these cities are also the focus of major domestic retail players, attracted by the rising aspirations and incomes in Tier II cities.

These trends are being echoed in real estate investment; Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune are the focus of increasing investor activity, and the yield gap between Tier I and II cities has narrowed to as low as 100 basis points. Some of the largest and most high profile developments by cross-border developers are in Tier II cities.

Tier III Cities
Offer growing opportunities

During the last two years, more firms have begun to evaluate the viability of locating in Tier III cities, and India is now seeing a gradual widening of its real estate base into a larger group of cities. This trend is being led by domestic IT and ITES companies such as Wipro, Infosys, and Satyam, and the more established foreign companies, such as IBM, Microsoft and Dell.

Jones Lang LaSalle has identified 18 Tier III cities that have the potential to emerge as important real estate markets over the next five years. The most successful cities are likely to fall into two groups:

Large cities, such as Kolkata (pop'n 13 million) and Ahmedabad (pop'n 5 million), which have historically lagged Tier I and Tier II cities, but by virtue of their size, labour market quality and economic dynamism, are expected to attract substantial real estate activity. Kolkata (West Bengal) has transformed from an insular communist economy into a business-friendly IT hub.

Smaller Indian cities (many with populations around the one million range), which will compete successfully for business due to superior education levels, a higher quality of life and urban infrastructure, good proximity to primary cities and their cultural and tourist offer. Chandigarh, north of Delhi designed by Le Corbusier and Kochi on the Kerala coast stand out, but cities such as Jaipur, Mangalore, Mysore, Thiruvananthapuram and Bhubaneshwar are also attracting increasing corporate interest.

Domestic funds and developers are active in Tier III cities in order to achieve "first mover advantage" and benefit from yield compression. However, many of these Tier III markets will continue to lack liquidity over the medium term.

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