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 JULY 2005

Sikhs putting down roots in Indy area Adherents to the Eastern faith learn about low home prices and jobs -- all by word of mouth. It was meant to be an overnight stop while hauling freight from California to Maryland. But that chance visit to Indianapolis on a snowy November day last year persuaded trucker Rajpal Singh and wife Harpreet Johal to move here, prompting many other Indian Sikh families from California and elsewhere to join them. Since January, more than 200 Sikh families have moved to Greenwood, Whiteland, Avon and Plainfield, real estate agents said. Most live within a 10- to 25-minute drive of the two Sikh temples in Indianapolis. And like the Singhs, many are truckers or owners of small trucking companies in the long-haul business. The region's main attraction is affordable housing. The Singh family was able to trade its $369,000 home with 3,000 square feet in Fresno, Calif., for a $225,000 home with 4,300 square feet in Plainfield, giving 2-year-old Noor and 3-month-old Roop a lot more room to romp and play. "California is too fast, and this is something different for the kids," Singh said. "Indianapolis is a better place, and the cost of living is great." Word of Singh's good fortune spread quickly back to friends and family in California, causing one of the largest influxes of immigrants to the Indianapolis area since the Hispanic wave of the 1990s. Many are still waiting for their homes to be built. But they are on their way to creating an enclave similar to the Hispanic neighborhood on Washington Street, as some buy small businesses and consider building a business retail center on the Far Southside. Business is so brisk for Indianapolis real estate agent Beenu Sikand that her cell phone rarely stops ringing. Her work has increased to such proportions that she roped in a friend to share the load. "Their California homes are giving them so much equity that two of my clients bought two homes and three businesses with the money they made from selling their old homes," Sahi said. "They all have aspirations of becoming entrepreneurs." Three kinds of buyers are moving here, Sahi said: people who earned a lot of equity in their old homes, people who can't afford homes in other states and people who are moving here with their employers. Since January, Century 21 Diversified alone has sold more than 200 homes to Indian Sikh families, and about 20 percent of them paid in cash. More than half of the families are moving into Greenwood, which is a convenient drive to the Sikh temples -- called Gurdwaras -- on Southeastern Avenue and Hobart Road in Indianapolis. The California city has one of the highest concentrations of Sikhs in America. Sikhism is one of the world's four major monotheistic religions. About 80 percent of its 18 million to 20 million adherents live in the Punjab state of India. While the calls from California continue to pour in, real estate agents and others in the Indianapolis area also are getting inquiries from Indians in Washington state, Massachusetts, Texas, New York and New Jersey. And it's all word of mouth. In anticipation of new arrivals, some current residents are pondering business ventures that would cater to South Asian families. Sahi and a few friends are considering building a 10,000-square-foot retail plaza on the Far Southside or in Greenwood by next spring. They already have some sites in mind, he said. For now, the new residents are settling in and enjoying their new homes.

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