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Shortly after Beijing native Monica Luo stepped out of Cummins Inc.’s Irwin Office Building onto the sidewalk along Washington Street, she bumped into two colleagues — Yan Zhang, of Harbin, China; and Swati Shukla, of Mumbai, India.
Luo and Zhang exchanged a few words in Mandarin before all three chatted briefly in English.
Such scenes are happening with greater frequency throughout Columbus, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported that the county’s Asian population grew from summer 2011 to summer 2012 by 16.2 percent, more than twice as fast as the group with the second-fastest growth, people who identified themselves as biracial or multiracial. Asians also were the group that posted the fastest growth in the nation, at 2.9 percent.
The Census Bureau said Bartholomew County gained nearly 500 Asians during that period, more than non-Hispanic whites, which added 467.
Asians accounted for nearly 38 percent of the county’s total population growth. Minorities combined accounted for about two-thirds of the growth.
Luo, Zhang and Shukla took similar paths to Columbus. They all grew up outside the U.S. but moved to America for higher learning and were recruited by Columbus-based Cummins.
Luo, 31, moved to Columbus and joined Cummins last summer after obtaining an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
Shukla, 22, graduated from Purdue University last year and also joined Cummins last summer.
Zhang, 22, moved to Columbus a few weeks ago but will leave after the summer to continue her studies at Purdue University.
Luo moved from Beijing to Bloomington in August 2010 and interned with Cummins in Charleston, S.C., during her first full summer in America. Cummins frequently recruits students from IU, and Luo said she knew about Cummins before moving to the U.S. She liked the company’s diverse workforce, which reminded her of the diversity at Indiana University.
Shukla grew up in India but moved with her family to Indonesia in her early teens. She attended an international school there and initially planned to move to England but changed her mind because the job market in the U.S. provided more opportunities.
Shukla looked at small universities in the U.S., including Ohio Wesleyan and Truman State in Missouri, but settled on the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.
She transferred to Purdue University for her junior year, in part to attend an accredited business school and to experience a campus with greater diversity.
Shukla, who holds a bachelor’s degree in management with a minor in marketing, interned with Cummins’ Power Generation unit last summer in Shoreview, Minn. She liked her experience, how the company treats its employees and how she was mentored; and when she heard good reports from internship peers who had joined Cummins full time, she decided to take a full-time job with Cummins.
Zhang moved to West Lafayette in summer 2010 to study math and accounting at Purdue University.
She had studied at an international school in China, in which classes were taught in English and instructors came from the U.S. or Canada. Zhang attended that school based on a good report from a relative who was attending there and because she could study in English and prepare for going overseas.
At Purdue, Cummins attended a job fair and applied based on recommendations from friends at Purdue who had interned at Cummins and later found full-time work.
The attitude of Cummins’ leaders toward diversity is influenced heavily by the philosophy of J. Irwin Miller, who served as Cummins chairman from 1951 to 1977. Miller helped organize the March on Washington in 1963, reached out to recruit African-Americans to Cummins and got involved in racial issues in Columbus in the 1960s.
“That was sort of Mr. Miller’s fundamental thing,” former Cummins President Joe Loughrey told The Republic last year. “If Cummins is going to be a global company and still stay headquartered in Columbus, Indiana, one of the things it has to be able to do is attract talent. And talent comes in different sizes and shapes, different colors, different genders.”
Luo said the company’s diverse workforce made it easier for her to choose to live in Columbus, despite the city’s relatively small size and limits in perceived social and entertainment opportunities for young professionals.
She said she was surprised to see so many international residents in a city of about 44,000 and said that the vast majority of people she has met have been friendly.
For many international job seekers, a good job matters more than the location of the job, especially in a sputtering economy, Luo said.
Although she said she sometimes misses Beijing’s hustle and bustle, especially in the evening when most businesses in Columbus are closed, living in a small city has its advantages. “You don’t have to deal with traffic,” Luo said.
And, she said, she has more time to spend with friends, which allows her to build deeper friendships, which helps compensate — at least somewhat — from living far away from her family. Luo, an only child, visits home every year around Christmas.
Shukla said that her move from West Lafayette to Columbus was easy because of proximity and because she was used to living in small cities. And, she said, Midwestern people in general are very polite, a sentiment that has been echoed by some of her international colleagues, especially those who have lived in other — often larger — cities.
Shukla said she enjoys going to a party at a friend’s house in Columbus and occasionally heads to Indianapolis, Bloomington or West Lafayette to hang out with friends, shop or go to dinner, which she said is still somewhat lacking in Columbus.
Cincinnati, Louisville, Brown County are nearby, Shukla said, and Chicago is not too far away either — though the more quiet life in Columbus does help her recuperate from her challenging work schedule.
“At the end of a busy week, I would rather relax,” she said.
Zhang, who is rooming with two other interns in a Columbus apartment, said that the local lack of entertainment options for young adults can provide a challenge, especially for people who, like her, do not have a car.
Thankfully, her boyfriend visits her from Purdue often, and several larger cities are nearby.
Zhang, too, said she enjoys the city’s diversity and safety and spends time sharing cultures and experiences with friends from India, Korea, China and America.
“I feel really comfortable here,” she said.
Zhang will be a senior at Purdue in August and said that after graduation she would prefer living in a smaller city because of lower living expenses.
Columbus would be a good start, she said, although she would definitely get a car when she gets a full-time job.
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