Home away from home

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2017

Nikhil Ajmera was born and raised native of India, but today he is the owner and operator of a Picayune franchise hotel from one of the premium brands in the world. To get there, he had to make a number of changes in his life, one of which was to make the move to the United States and eventually become a naturalized citizen.

While growing up in Nagpur, India, business was like second nature to the Ajmera family.

So, when the idea of moving to the United States was suggested by his wife, a baffled Nikhil, only 27 at the time, couldn’t deny his partner’s wish.

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The couple arrived stateside in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2001 with no job leads, but full of ambition. Nikhil first job on American soil was working at a gas station.

“It was difficult initially, there was a language barrier coming from a city predominately speaking our native language, but we made sure that it didn’t affect us,” he said.

A month into the job and they were already debating going back home.

“It was a bitter experience working with certain unprofessional people, especially as we just started out,” Nikhil said.

With things not taking shape as the couple had planned, eventually it came down to whether they would buy a business or go back to Nagpur.

It seemed like forever without any substantial prospects, but six months into their time in the States the opportunity to purchase an automotive repair shop in Destin, Florida knocked at their door.

“It was like shooting in the dark. We knew nothing about cars, other than basic knowledge in retail, but learning the nuances of the trade and hiring good automotive technicians helped us pull off the business for the next six years,” Nikhil said.

Just when they were going through some of their best years, a hurricane wiped out their business in Florida. As a result of the storm and the drop in the real estate market, Destin lost a lot of its people and struggled to recuperate. Gas prices rose and tourism dropped, and after struggling for a year they again considered going back to India.

In 2008, the help of a friend led Nikhil to an opportunity to eventually establish the Holiday Inn Express in Picayune. To do it, he would need to sell his repair shop and secure financial assistance. The initial move to a small town came as a shock to the couple, but in his heart he knew he was doing the right thing.

“As long as we had a roof over our heads and food on our table, we had to keep going,” Nikhil said.

It’s now been nine years since he came to America, and looking back he has no regrets.

“I love the small town feel; people are warm and welcoming and we’ve got so many opportunities to get involved with the various communities.” Nikhil said.

Today, when he’s not a work, Nikhil can be seen participating in a number of local clubs and organizations. Over the years he’s been a board member for the Greater Picayune Chamber of Commerce, Picayune Exchange Club and Picayune Main Street.

He only wishes he would have come to the States as a younger man so his acclimation to the culture would have been easier.

“When anyone looks back at their journey, they wish they could’ve done it differently, but because of the struggle I feel I’m a stronger person now,” he said.

Today, besides owning and operating the Holiday Inn Express in town, he has invested in several small properties to better stabilize his financial situation.

From getting their business visa, to a green card and later becoming naturalized citizens, everything eventually fell in place for the now family of four. Now, they plan to live in the United States for the long term.

“Undoubtedly, I miss my family and feel the need to go back, but I see a better future for my family here and would definitely think of going there to retire,” Nikhil said.

With little ambition of moving to a big city, five years from now Nikhil sees himself still in Picayune.

“It’s the opposite of what I’ve heard about the South and besides it’s home now, and there’s no place like home,” Nikhil said.