Northern New England’s immigrant investment playing field just became more crowded. A new EB-5 regional center, based in Campton, N.H., was approved Monday by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The Invest New Hampshire Regional Center aims to raise $10.5 million in $500,000 increments from 21 investors. The money will fund expansions at the Owl’s Nest Resort and Golf Club in the White Mountains, according to USCIS documentation published on its website.
The center’s manager, Kelly Wieser, is the daughter of Owl’s Nest developer and regional center principal Thomas Mullen. A January report in New Hampshire Business Review quoted Mullen as saying the group plans to expand their EB-5 investment portfolio beyond Owl’s Nest. Representatives from Invest New Hampshire could not be reached before publication time for this article.
Administered through the federal government’s employer-based visa program, EB-5 investors and their immediate family members will receive a green card for permanent residency if 10 jobs (or 10 jobs worth of domestic economic activity) are created within two years.
Invest New Hampshire is the fourth such regional center approved to operate in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire EB-5 Regional Center was created to raise $35 million to turn Ragged Mountain Resort into a four-season destination, much like plans for the EB-5-funded Jay Peak and Burke Mountain expansions in Vermont.
“You’ve heard of the term, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?” Bill Stenger said. “This applies.”
The Jay Peak co-owner is the public face of a combined $425 million set of EB-5 projects promising thousands of jobs in the Northeast Kingdom. In addition to Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, Stenger and his business partner, Ariel Quiros, are working to bring a Korean biotech firm to Newport and develop a city block and waterfront lot in the town.
Stenger said the Owl’s Nest and Ragged Mountain developers visited Jay Peak to learn more about the EB-5 program and to see how their competitor had used it to his advantage. “They have essentially copied what we’ve done. And that’s OK,” Stenger said.
Juggling a phone call between business and investor visits — Stenger said three investors had come to Jay Peak on Tuesday, and three more were visiting Wednesday — he brushed aside any mention of worry about the competition.
“When they (investors) come to Jay Peak, they love what they see and they appreciate what we’ve actually accomplished, not what we’re hoping to accomplish,” Stenger said. He said Jay Peak’s history of EB-5 funded projects, including the Tram Haus Lodge, is one of his biggest selling points.
Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center director likewise is not concerned about competition from regional neighbors. Brent Raymond, who also heads the office of international trade for the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said the real rivalry comes from urban areas, not rural neighbors.
“Projects in well-known urban areas — Miami, New York, LA, Houston, Dallas — those are well known throughout the world,” Raymond said. “So Vermont has to market even harder to compete with those urban areas that have TEAs.”
A so-called Targeted Employment Area, or TEA, is a region characterized by EB-5 regulations as either rural or as having high unemployment. Almost all of Vermont qualifies as a rural TEA, which triggers a $500,000 investment threshold for EB-5 investments. The minimum investment in non-TEA regions is twice that: $1 million.
“I don’t think we have to compete against projects at the $1 million investment amount,” Raymond said. Persuading immigrants to invest in Vermont for half the cost of investing anywhere else, in other words, is not an intimidating sales task.
“What we have to worry about is large urban markets that are able to utilize U.S. Census data to create very large, very well-funded projects in urban areas that are much more well known than Vermont,” Raymond said.
He explained that some urban projects qualify as TEAs by factoring low employment rates in the areas where workers hail from, rather than the places where projects themselves are based.
“Most of the people who work in Manhattan don’t live there,” he said by way of example. “So just by the fact of people traveling from high unemployment areas, like Queens or Brooklyn, they’re able to qualify for a TEA.”
Selling a half-million dollar investment in the Northeast Kingdom over one in New Hampshire’s North Country, then, is a very different playing field than promoting the NEK over Park Avenue for the same price.
“We have a history of success. But people in Brazil, people from China, from Venezuela or wherever might not know where Vermont is,” Raymond said. “But most know where New York City or Los Angeles is. That’s why we have to stay on top of marketing and being out there in front of those markets that induce the most investors.”
The state’s most recent marketing push on behalf of the regional center and its biggest developer, Jay Peak, involved Gov. Peter Shumlin and took place in China and Vietnam in late September. Shumlin and Stenger are considering a return trip in 2014.
This article was updated Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013.