In 2003, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), one of the world's largest IT services firms, opened an office in Buffalo, New York. Among those attending the opening event was Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who played a role in convincing Tata to establish an office in upstate New York.
The TCS Buffalo office is now closed, but the circumstances around it resonate today. Clinton's interest in TCS was controversial because of its connection to offshore outsourcing. It is also a major user of H-1B visa workers.
In 2003, TCS said the Buffalo office was Clinton's "brainchild." At the announcement Clinton said, "TCS could have located anywhere in the country. I am proud but not surprised that they chose Buffalo."
Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, broadly views offshore outsourcing as both an unstoppable force and a two-way street, with Tata as an illustration. She opposes protectionism, but avoids discussing the role of the H-1B visa in facilitating offshoring.
But in 2003, TCS's Buffalo office put Clinton on the defensive about outsourcing.
A year after the Tata office opened, in 2004, Clinton appeared on the TV show of Lou Dobbs, a CNN journalist. Dobbs asked her about her work with Tata.
"Well, of course I know that they outsource jobs, that they've actually brought jobs to Buffalo," said Clinton to Dobbs, according to a transcript. "They've created 10 jobs in Buffalo and have told me and the Buffalo community that they intend to be a source of new jobs in the area, because, you know, outsourcing does work both ways."
Clinton's defense of outsourcing was noticed in India. The headline in the Times of India following Clinton's appearance on Dobbs was: "Hillary Clinton stands up for Tatas, outsourcing".
In July 2004, a few months after the Dobbs interview, Tata announced it was "making good" on its commitment to expand its presence in Buffalo, which it said would provide training for new recruits. It had hired 20 to date and had plans to triple that number by mid-2005. Clinton was quoted again, for the second time in two years, in a Tata press release expressing satisfaction with Tata's efforts.
In 2005, in a forum in India, Clinton called outsourcing "an inevitability; there is no way to legislate against reality. So I think that outsourcing will continue."
Meanwhile, the Buffalo office didn't appear to be expanding. In 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that "about 10" people worked in it.
TCS "did open a small office in Buffalo in 2003, but local market conditions did not perform as well as we hoped, so we subsequently relocated the business elsewhere," said Benjamin Trounson, a spokesman for the firm, in an email Wednesday.
"While we don't have a physical presence in Buffalo any more, TCS frequently hires from across New York state and around the country to support its 20-plus facilities and client needs," said Trounson.
Clinton's belief that outsourcing "works both ways" is hard to prove. Many of the firms that shifted jobs overseas do not provide any data about their U.S. employment hires. IBM, for instance, no longer provides a headcount for its U.S. workforce, nor does Tata.
TCS's Trounson said that "TCS does not break employees down by regions, roles or backgrounds. But, as an example, we have been the top job creator for U.S. citizens in the IT services sector over the past three years and will continue to hire much more local talent in the future, as a consistent net recruiter and key contributor to the U.S. innovation economy."
But without specific data from TCS it's difficult to know to what extent it hires U.S. workers and whether its reliance on temporary visa workers is increasing or decreasing.