By: Tim Harwood
Each year, OPIC holds Expanding Horizons events around the country to educate U.S. small businesses about investment opportunities in emerging markets – and the OPIC products available to help make the most of them.
This week, OPIC travels to Ohio, home state of DLZ Corporation, an engineering firm that used a $5 million OPIC loan to rehabilitate a hydro power plant in India’s Maharashtra State. Bolstered by that project’s success, DLZ has since gone on to launch two more hydro projects in India. The Ohio company is just one example of many U.S. small businesses that have successfully expanded into developing markets around the world with OPIC’s support.
As Shyam Rajadhakashya remembers it, everyone was flooding India with investment in the late 1990s. ‘Everyone’ saw opportunity, he says, but not everyone was equipped to make good on it; many, if not most, failed.
His father’s engineering firm, DLZ Corporation of Columbus, saw in a small hydropower plant in India’s Maharashtra State rendered inoperative by a fire the chance not only to earn a good return but the necessity to think its strategy through.
“This was the first project of its type in Maharashtra, so it was high-risk,” says Rajadhyaksha. “The state electricity board was in financial distress back then, and a good deal of power theft was going on. Credit ratings for the project were not too good, because there was a high risk of non-payment or delayed payments by the electricity board. And remember at that time, while companies were still investing in India, some were starting to pull out.”
“Working with OPIC was key,” says Rajadhyaksha. “Simply, there were no other sources of funding available to us at the time. The U.S. rates were lower and the business model worked out.”
“As it turned out, the project was hugely important for us,” he recalls. “At the time, a lot of people were talking about building projects, but no one was able to get hydro projects completed. We were able to get it finished. That’s what OPIC gives American small businesses – instant credibility in a foreign market. With OPIC’s backing, people know you are serious.”
For American companies, especially small businesses, looking to expand into lucrative emerging markets – the very markets where a vast majority of the world’s economic growth is going to take place in coming decades – OPIC can be the missing ingredient that turns a missed opportunity into a successful one.
From the initial OPIC-supported 10megawatt hydro power plant in Maharashtra, DLZ has since added two additional plants in Maharashtra, two in Himachal Pradesh, and one in Madhya Pradesh, , generating a total of 62.5 megawatts for largely impoverished areas. The company now employs more than 70 staff in India. Shyam Rajadhaksha is Vice President.
Ohio to India
Like so many of the small businesses that today are expanding beyond U.S. borders, DLZ started out as a domestic operation in the American heartland. In 1978 Raj Rajadhyaksha – Shyam’s father – purchased a well-established Columbus engineering firm, Dodson-Lindblom Associates and turned it into DLZ Corporation, a civil engineering company focusing on highway, water and architecture projects. Dodson-Lindblom International (DLI), the international division of DLZ began to look at India for hydro opportunities on the build-own-operate-transfer basis, just as India started to encourage foreign investment using the same formula.
At this time an opportunity became available with the 10MW hydro plant at Bhandardara Dam in the State of Maharashtra, about 90 miles northeast of Mumbai. Initially built by the Maharashtra State Government in 1984, the plant was put out for bid after a fire rendered its powerhouse inoperative in 1996.
“My dad knew the then-irrigation minister for in Maharashtra, and approached him about the project – he knew they were looking for investment,” says Shyam Rajadhakashya. “The problem was, there weren’t many private banks operating in India then. Then we heard about OPIC, I believe through Delphos International,” [an advisory firm now part of OPIC’s Enterprise Development Network].
DLZ obtained a $5 million loan from OPIC for the rehabilitation of the Bhandardara plant in 1999. Two years later it started operations.
“The plant has been operating since 2001 and has generated clean power to the region and provided green jobs,” says Shyam Rajadhakashya. “It really went pretty much according to plan.”
Today, In addition to using hydro power to generate a sustainable source of energy, DLZ has also supported the communities where it operates in India, renovating local schools, building temples and supporting cultural festivals and events. DLZ has also been instrumental in providing housing to its employees in the neighboring town, and this has improved the businesses of local vendors and farmers selling fresh produce,” he adds.
“Ten years on, the population of Maharashtra and electricity demand has increased significantly, and so has the electricity production in general,” says Aniket Samant, a DLZ employee in India. “Even with the small capacity of our project, our project has contributed to the improvement of the energy infrastructure in the State.”
Blueprint for Ohio small businesses?
For Shyam Rajadhaksha, the DLZ success story should be a source of inspiration for other Ohio small businesses – provided they do their homework.
“When I see Ohio companies, some are looking at emerging markets but many are overlooking them,” he says.” The truth is, things are getting better. People now want more growth, are expecting growth. It’s a good time to invest.”
“My advice for investors? Be patient. With patience, there are good returns to be made. Just look at India now: there are so many people coming in. Everyone is developing something there. Being diligent, patient, doing your homework, and teaming up with a partner like OPIC with experience in that country can lead to a very successful endeavor.”