Maine moving ahead with regional center to attract foreign investors
Under the EB-5 program, foreign entrepreneurs can get visas for investing in projects such as a proposed $40 million Chinese medical tourism facility in Auburn that create jobs for U.S. workers.
The state is moving forward with development of a regional center to connect foreign investors to projects in Maine, such as a $40 million Chinese medical tourism facility proposed for Auburn.
Under the federal EB-5 visa program, foreign investors, their spouses and unmarried children under 21 get visas to live in the U.S. and, eventually, green cards for permanent residency if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise.
An investment project also has to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
The minimum qualifying investment is $1 million, but can be as low as $500,000 within a high-unemployment or rural area in the U.S.
A representative for the proposed medical tourism facility in Auburn has said such a regional center would be critical to getting that project going.
The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development first considered becoming a regional center two years ago. In November 2016, department Commissioner George Gervais said he expected to hear from the federal government “any day now.”
The department would wait nearly another year. Approval came last September.
“We kind of set this aside because we didn’t really know if it was ever going to come,” Gervais said Tuesday. “There was one member of our team who was quite persistent, and lo and behold, we got approved.”
The department is establishing policies and procedures for the new center – important, Gervais said, considering the alleged fraud and other problems that have plagued some other centers, including a variety of scandals at centers in Illinois, New York, Vermont and Washington.
“We are studying those examples and we are just making sure we have all the proper controls, checks and balances in place so that this is nothing but positive for Maine,” Gervais said.
In 2013, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued an alert to warn investors about scams seeking to exploit the EB-5 program. But Gervais believes the program, done right, can bring badly needed money to Maine projects.
This would not be the first regional center in Maine. Over the years, private groups – including the owners and executives of Saddleback ski resort in Rangeley – have started regional centers, but none has attracted any money to Maine, Gervais said.
He said the state’s new regional center already has some project leaders “that are very interested” in participating in the program. One of them is Miracle Enterprise, a China-based group that plans to turn the former Lunn & Sweet Shoe Co. factory on Minot Avenue into a five-star resort catering to rich Chinese patients seeking American medical treatments.
Gervais said his department has not been in touch with Miracle Enterprise recently. Some project leaders haven’t yet heard about the state’s regional center approval, he said, so department staff will reach out to them soon.
“There are some projects who are aware of our approval and they are … applying pressure to get us going. But we still have to take our time to make sure we do it right,” Gervais said.
A representative for Miracle Enterprise could not be reached Tuesday.
Auburn Economic and Community Development Director Michael Chammings said he spoke to Miracle Enterprise’s project manager less than two months ago and the group was then working its business plan around the lack of a regional center.
“I’m sure they’re happy the program has been put into place,” he said.
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