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Importing Immigrant investment to Asheville and beyond

                     Appalachia has willing workers and great ideas for new ventures, but promising projects often stumble for the                      lack of capital. Now, two veteran economic developers are hoping to coax overseas investment to projects                          across Western North Carolina and east Tennessee.

Dale Carroll and Pam Lewis have launched the Appalachian EB-5 Regional Center, the first local company seeking money from federally vetted foreign investors. Rich foreigners willing to invest at least $500,000 in the mountains to create new jobs could earn the right to live and work in the U.S. with green cards for themselves and their families.

Meanwhile, American workers will get permanent jobs in new projects, ranging from medical centers to factory expansions, hotels and movie projects. In North Carolina, foreign investment helped build a cold storage facility at the port of Wilmington, critical for farmers and food manufacturers exporting overseas.

Since 1992, the federal Immigrant Investors or EB-5 program administered through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services vetted 29,000 foreigners for visas. In turn, those investors have put more than $6.8 billion in local projects, creating an estimated 50,000 American jobs.

Carroll first became aware of the EB-5 as deputy secretary of the N.C. Commerce Department under Gov. Bev Perdue. “It became evident to me that this could be a powerful capital formation and job creation tool. When you combine the EB-5 program with the strengths we share in WNC and eastern Tennessee, it positions us to have a even greater economic impact on the Appalachian region.”

The Appalachian center will join about 440 regional EB-5 centers that operate nationwide. California and Pennsylvania have seen great activity with foreign investment, Carroll said. Hilton and Marriott, two international hotel chains, have tapped into EB-5 funds for new hotel construction. But the range of projects include the Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Port of Wilmington’s cold storage units, and even movie productions in Los Angeles.

Money goes into escrow with individual projects as the Immigration Services vets those potential investors for criminal records, immunizations and other background searches. While the immigrants sign up to invest in local projects, their visas once granted allow them to live anywhere within the U.S.

Many of these wealthy families take advantage of the EB-5 federal immigration program to educate their children at U.S. universities and colleges. Carroll said it was unclear how many immigrants would actually move to the region even if they invested here.

The Appalachian Regional EB-5 Center will allow Carroll and Lewis to highlight the region they have worked so closely with in the past to a new audience overseas. They see plenty of travel ahead in their planners, a balance between overseas trips and regional treks around the mountains.

Coaxing capital to mountains

Foreign investment has always played a critical role in the mountain economy. A Dutch company created the American Enka Corp., building the largest rayon company in the U.S., building mills in Enka and across the Southeast that bolstered fortunes and rural economies during the Great Depression.

American businesses have turned to foreign capital again since the credit crunch of the Great Recession, starting in 2007.

“In WNC, we learned through the Certified Entrepreneurial Community program and the Advantage Opportunity Fund that the critical need for access to capital was often a limiting factor in bringing prosperity to a community,” said Lewis, who will serve as the center’s senior vice president.

Immigrant investment can only help the region, which faces challenges to raise business capital, said Paul Szurek, chief financial officer for Biltmore Farms and board chairman for the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville and Buncombe County. “I’m glad we’re lowering barriers for those individuals. I only wish we could do it in a more broad-based way.”

Asheville, for a city its size, has done well for local investment as retirees with high net-worth portfolios find homes here, Szurek said. But more capital can be found in larger cities like Charlotte or Raleigh.

“We’re making good strides in capital formation, but we have transitions to make more companies transparent and worthy of investment as well as increasing wealth in our community,” he said.

Promoting the region

As federally designated counties under the Appalachian Regional Commission, WNC and east Tennessee are home to more than just the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and vacation vistas.

Asheville is at the heart of their rural territory, but the Appalachian Regional Center will include other thriving urban areas including Chattanooga, Cleveland, Knoxville and Johnson City in Tennessee and Winston-Salem.

Within that footprint of 29 WNC counties and 50 east Tennessee counties, giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google have planted data centers. Volkswagen has opened a plant in Chattanooga, and Wake Forest University is pushing the frontiers of life science in Winston-Salem. Just over the line from Asheville is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a think-tank goldmine for new technologies, Carroll said.

“Oak Ridge is perhaps better known overseas than even in our own region,” said Carroll, who will serve as the center’s CEO.

Together again

For Carroll and Lewis, the investment company is a new venture for old colleagues. Carroll and Lewis first worked together at AdvantageWest Regional Ecomomic Development group, where Carroll served as president and CEO before his promotion to deputy secretary of the N.C. Commerce Department in Raleigh. Most recently, he’s headed the WNC office of the N.C. Biotechnology Center.

Lewis headed the WNC Film Commission and helped launch AdvantageWest’s Certified Entrepreneurial Communities program. She later served as director of entrepreneurship for the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville and Buncombe County.

Lewis and her husband, Gary, were headed to Austin, Texas, where Lewis had business contacts through the annual South by Southwest festival.

“Dale caught me about three weeks before we were going to move,” she said. “I texted him back within about 30 minutes. ‘Yes, yes and yes.’ This is the only opportunity that would have kept me away from Austin.”

At AdvantageWest, Lewis worked with Google for the national Juicy Ideas contest for student entrepreneurs. Many of those national finalists were foreign students, just the ones who may benefit from the EB-5 pram. She remembered “George,” a rising senior at Stanford University, who came from Beijing.

While his country’s economy has outpaced America’s in recent years, the Chinese teenager firmly believed that the U.S. will remain the educational leader, drawing top-caliber talent from around the world.


Автор

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Principal Attorney at Rahbaran & Associates, an EB-5 Law Firm

Reza Rahbaran

Фирма: Rahbaran & Associates, PLLC
Сферы юридической практики: Бизнес-иммиграция, Иммиграция Через Инвестиции, EB-5 Региональный центр подачи заявления поставщика, Связи с правительствами, Альтернативное разрешение споров, Административное право
Языки: Английский, Персидский, Испанский, Китайский (мандарин), Французский, Русский, Португальский, Арабский
Электронный адрес: reza@rahbaranllc.com

With offices in both Miami, Florida and Washington D.C., Rahbaran & Associates is focused exclusively on EB-5 law and OFAC applications and com... Читать дальше »  


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