Foreign investors may earn green cards
Sunday November 24, 2013 9:19 AM
An effort is underway to bring millions of dollars in foreign investment — and the jobs that come with it — to Ohio.
In return, the foreign investors could be placed on an accelerated pathway to U.S. citizenship.
MidAmerican Global Ventures has joined with eight regional economic-development groups across the state as part of an effort to stimulate foreign investment and job creation in the U.S.
For Brian Hicks, MidAmerican’s managing partner, it’s his second attempt to create a so-called EB-5 program.
Hicks was regional fund manager of the Columbus International Fund, but he shut it down last year when the founder, who also had started a similar fund in Cleveland, was indicted as part of the collapse of a federal credit union.
Since then, Hicks has been working with his team to create a fund with a goal of generating $50 million for projects from at least 100 investors.
“We think there is a market,” he said. “We think it is good business. We also think it is a business that can do good things for the local economy.”
MidAmerican expects to help fund projects in mixed-use real estate, medical offices, technology, energy, manufacturing and distribution facilities.
Hicks said the critical ingredient is setting up the project to be a true public-private partnership, which is why MidAmerican is working with economic-development groups throughout the state.
MidAmerican will offer financing for projects in northwestern, central and eastern parts of Ohio. Its partners include Columbus 2020, central Ohio’s economic-development arm, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority in the northwest, the Athens County Economic Development Council in southeastern Ohio and the Jefferson County Port Authority along the West Virginia state line.
“We realized there was a market not only in central Ohio, but in other parts of the state,” Hicks said.
To qualify under the program, a foreign investor must make an investment of at least $1 million, or $500,000 if investments are made in certain rural or high-unemployment areas. The project must create at least 10 jobs.
The visas that foreign investors and their family members receive for the program are good for two years, during which time the investors must show the investment did what was promised.
If they can prove that, they can get a green card, which allows them to stay in the U.S. and, eventually, become a U.S. citizen.
Hicks said much of the interest in EB-5 programs comes from China, but there’s also interest from Vietnam, Brazil, South Korea, Europe and the Middle East.
Local groups are eager to work with the new program.
Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer for Columbus 2020, said having an EB-5 program in central Ohio makes sense because the region already is seeking more foreign investment and an increased number of foreign residents.
He said there are development opportunities in each county that 2020 serves that could qualify for EB-5 funding.
“I just think it’s another tool,” he said, one that brings more diversity to the region.
Diana Turoff, CFO of the Columbus-based Finance Fund, which works to provide private and public funding for projects in underserved neighborhoods, said the EB-5 program can serve as another source of money for projects.
“EB-5 financing will help leverage more opportunities for Finance Fund programs, including our New Markets Tax Credit financing,” she said.
MidAmerican will file its application with the federal government early next year, with approval expected by year’s end. In the meantime, it will begin to identify projects that it can fund.
Even though it has been around since 1990, the EB-5 program is still considered a pilot project. It’s set to expire in 2015, and Congress will have to decide whether to reauthorize it.
As of Sept. 30, 2012, the program nationally had created an estimated 49,300 jobs at its 400 locations while generating total investment of $6.8 billion.
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