The shift of the Indian American community from DeKalb to Fulton, Cobb and Forsyth counties is an interesting journey to follow, discovers JYOTHSNA HEGDE.
Situated on a natural ridge that runs between Atlanta and Athens, the Continental Divide, DeKalb was established as Georgia’s 56th county, with the city of Decatur as the county seat. “The Indian American community gives top priority to good schools and peaceful neighborhoods with the lowest crime rate. In the eighties, Decatur was the hub of the Indian American community to live and enjoy the peaceful life and good schools for their children. Having a Stone Mountain address was considered prestigious,” notes Atlanta’s well-known realtor Narender Reddy.
Surrounded by the city of Atlanta on its south and west sides, Decatur is closer to Atlanta’s business, retail and many cultural destinations. Atlanta and Decatur are Georgia’s only county seats inside the “Perimeter” interstate (I-285) that encircles the metro area. Atlanta is an international city with corporate headquarters, world class convention facilities and a fast pace, while Decatur has retained its small city feel and a slightly slower pace.
Why then, did the Indian American community start moving away from DeKalb and towards Cobb, Fulton and Forsyth counties? The pursuit of a balanced Indian and American lifestyle for her and her family was one of the main reasons she moved to Cumming, says Sonali Das, Director, Staff Recruitment and Retention at Georgia State University.
As noted by Reddy, some of Sonali’s main priorities included a secure community and good schools. Her son had been bullied at school and the lack of a non-diverse administration at school did not help matters. She also adds that even though her son was doing very well at a Charter school academically, the non-existent competition was not really a true reflection of her son’s complete potential.
“Schools such as North View High in North Fulton and Wheeler High in East Cobb are ranked very high in the State of Georgia. Gradually, Schools in Forsyth County are also achieving higher standards, which is a good omen for all those young IT professionals that have moved to Cumming,” notes Reddy. “High crime rate from South Fulton started to creep into DeKalb County and the quality of education in public schools slowly deteriorated,” Reddy explains.
Sonali agrees. When the subdivision her family lived in was subjected to crime, it was time to move.
Analyzing the early concentration in DeKalb, Reddy says, the Indian American community, like any other community, prefers to live where they work. Once, downtown Atlanta was the main source for job growth. However, suburbs along Perimeter (I-285) West have slowly become the new employment centers. Gwinnett County, which was a rural farming community, started growing rapidly with the building of office parks followed by residential subdivisions. “I moved to Gwinnett County about 23 years ago because of its peaceful and less stressful environment and so did thousands of other Indian Americans from DeKalb County,” Reddy notes.
It may be noted that Decatur’s official motto, which currently is “A city of homes, schools and places of worship”, was “A city of homes, schools, and churches, prior to 2000”. “One should not forget that till the late eighties, no minority populace, including Indian Americans, could move into Forsyth County due to racial overtones. However, due to the national media attention in 1987 over certain racial attacks, the situation has changed rapidly in favor of minorities moving into Forsyth County (Cumming City). Today, one cannot imagine any new subdivision in Cumming without a significant number of Indian American residents,” he adds.
Hwy 400 was also a significant game-changer. Reddy observes that when Georgia Hwy 400 was built in the early nineties, it made it easy to commute to the northern suburbs. The houses in the new communities were offered at attractive prices and Indian Americans preferred to move into those communities that were close to the I-285. Slowly, the standard of education in schools from those neighborhoods began to rise and more and more Indian Americans moved to these suburbs. Also, new job centers started popping up along GA 400. The building of technology centers along GA 400 such as Windward Business Park etc., brought thousands of jobs to the area, encouraging the new Indian American immigrants to move into Alpharetta. “The migration of our community into East Cobb may slow down in favor of more families moving into the Alpharetta and Cumming areas because of the rapid growth of job centers. ” he adds.
“Indian families like brand new houses, rather than buying a used home. Since most new home constructions were in the GA-400 corridor, it was natural for Indian Americans to relocate to the Alpharetta area,” observes Dr. L.S. Narsi Narasimhan, Co-Founder and CEO, Paalam, Inc. He believes that the economic growth of the Indian Americans over the years is reflective of this shift. “Indian Americans have become more affluent over the past 20 plus years. Thus, they favor more and more the affluent neighborhoods of GA-400 corridor over the older neighborhoods of DeKalb. GA-400 corridor is the home of most high-tech companies like HP and IBM. Most high paying jobs are along the GA-400 corridor,” says Dr Narasimhan.
The Gym teacher at my son’s school in Cumming plays “Chammak Challo” and “Jai Ho”, laughs Sonali. Thanks to her son, Sonali has also learned that there are Indian versions of American songs. While security and good schools are the top priority, it may also be observed that the rampant growth of Indian grocery stores, restaurants and caterers who supply homemade food to your doorstep, also attracts the Indian population towards Fulton, Forsyth and Cobb counties. “I hear there is even a tailor around here, so I don’t need to wait to go to India to get my blouses stitched,” Sonali adds. She says even the Publix at Cumming caters to Indian tastes – the chicken she says is cut as per Indian requirements, without her even giving instructions, something she had to do every single time at the Publix in her previous location. Her observation is that the services and layout of even American stores are much better at these counties. While she and her family enjoy the American experience, a place like Cumming also offers the opportunity to stay close to their Indian roots, which explains the shift of Indian community towards these counties.
The economic strata, high ranking school districts, secure neighborhoods packed with restaurants and grocery stores catering to an Indian lifestyle are certainly attracting the community to Cobb, Fulton and Forsyth counties. The significant growth of economy owing to major company office spaces in these counties is an added bonus.