Small towns never cease to surprise me with their enthusiasm. On one of my many trips I found myself on a train journey through Punjab exploring its industry and golf scene. In Kapurthala, which is a few miles off Jalandhar, a single golf course is producing world class talent. Gaganjeet Bhullar rings a bell? He has made Kapurthala and the golf course at the Rail Coach Factory famous. Chandigarh is the nursery for aspiring players. New courses are coming up in Panchkula. Golf is flourishing. Just as I would have imagined the rise of the sport may have been linked with the growth of the industry, it's not. I was rather disappointed to know how poorly business is doing.
Punjab's economy is in the doldrums with much of the manufacturing down. Incentives in Gujarat, Haryana and other regions has attracted the potential industry out of Punjab. Additionally, businesses are closing down. The times are bad. Once the hub for iron and steel, Mandi Gobindgarh has lost massive business with many merchants -- each with a turnover of about Rs 250 crore - giving up their licences to trade in metal all together. New business opportunity are few and far between, and whatever exist, are export led. There are some small wonders like the pump manufacturers who supply motors to agriculture sector. And then there are the farmers producing gladioli, strawberries and broccoli along with cereals to push special production. These handful cannot change fortunes of the economy.
Economy talk is centrestage as I choose to get to a golf course to gauge the pulse. Nearly every business owner in Jalandar plays golf, and in Ludhiana, every other does. So fairways become a good ground for business sentiment check. The concerns lie on the lack of incentive to do business. Just as other states are creating additional infrastructure or attracting foreign investment, Punjab has got left behind, worry these industrialists.
Jobs for the youth is a massive challenge facing Punjab. The technology revolution seems to have bypassed the state as very little software businesses have taken to Punjab. The maximum expansion is happening in construction and in real estate where the employment opportunities are at best semi-skilled. For job creation, the problems are twin. One, the availability of jobs and lack of labour intensive sectors and two, the skill development is half-baked as institutes are not able to meet skill set to job options.
There is hope though. These odds in Punjab haven't changed the hunger to do business. And that spirit of entrepreneurship continues to fascinate me. On a round of golf I caught up with some owners of small and medium enterprises who are making hardware tools, sporting goods, toys and cloth items. Since the times are challenging there are finding business with each other. And some of them are creating partnerships on the course. All of 150 odd members the Jalandhar course has, many have started doing business with each other and find ways to create common infrastructure, pool in sheds and factories. As one of them says the entrepreneurs have started working despite the government. They are now focused on producing quality material, forge new partnerships and explore markets outside the state.
Anybody who's ever even casually played golf has undoubtedly heard this phrase before. Keep your head down. For those who haven't, golf is a game where the best shot of your life and the worst shot of your life are literally less than a centimetre apart. Keeping your head down throughout the entirety of your swing is necessary in producing an accurate shot. And so golfers and businessmen alike are taking this lesson seriously. At least till times change for the better and the economic growth can give them a lift in business, too.