World Trade Center Savannah gets EB-5 status
The Savannah World Trade Center for Investment, a joint operation of the World Trade Center Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority, has been certified by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service as an EB-5 Regional Center, effective Jan. 8.
Also known as the Immigrant Investor Program, EB-5 was created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy and create jobs through an influx of funds from foreign investors.
In a nutshell, it’s a federal government-approved way for well-heeled foreign investors to bankroll projects in the United States that will create jobs and stimulate the economy. In return, the investor gets temporary visas for his or her family with a potential fast track — four to five years — to permanent U.S. residency.
Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. As with any government program, there are multiple levels of qualification and vetting, both to become a regional center and to be an investor.
WTC Savannah and SEDA applied for the designation under the name Savannah World Trade Center for Investment in October 2014.
“We believe the Savannah World Trade Center for Investment will be an important new resource to attract foreign investment to Savannah,” said Scott Center, World Trade Center Savannah chairman. “We have a number of existing Savannah projects seeking investment capital as well as new commercial entities that could locate in Savannah if we could offer EB-5 capital as an incentive.”
Trip Tollison, president and CEO of both SEDA and the World Trade Center Savannah, agreed.
“Not only will this new center create significant investment, it will create new job opportunities,” he said.
According to the federal Citizen and Immigration Service, approximately 140,000 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year for aliens — and their spouses and children — who seek to immigrate based on their job skills, professional status or extraordinary abilities. The right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience may offer a path to permanent citizenship to those who meet all other eligibility requirements.
The government lists five “employment-based immigrant visa preference” categories. The EB-5 category is reserved for those foreign entrepreneurs who invest $1 million or more in a new commercial enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers.
EB-5 investors are subject to full background due diligence via Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to ensure they are legitimate investors and received their funds legally.
Because their money cannot be borrowed and is 100 percent at risk, investors are equally cautious about the projects they fund. To complete the process for permanent visas, the project must create and sustain a certain number of jobs for a certain amount of time.
The majority of EB-5 investors come from China although they can come from almost any country.
The program is administered through federally approved EB-5 regional centers.
While EB-5 is a relatively new concept for the area, the Savannah WTCI is hardly breaking new ground. According to the Citizen and Immigration Service, there are currently 791 regional centers in the United States accounting for $4 billion in GNP and 41,000 new jobs per year. More than 25 countries have similar programs to attract foreign investment.
Perhaps one of the most visible EB-5 successes is the resurgence of Las Vegas, which has seen a recent economic boom using regional centers and EB-5 funding to build new casino projects.
In 2013 the first EB-5 project — the Downtown Grand — was built, followed by SLS (formerly the Sahara Hotel).
Other new casino projects obtaining EB-5 funding on the Las Vegas strip include Lucky Dragon, Dynasty Hotel Casino, Clarion Hotel and World Resorts.
Now, major developers have begun to form their own regional centers with the goal of soliciting EB-5 investments. Silverstein Properties, for example, marketed The Four Seasons Restaurant in downtown Manhattan as “an EB-5 investment opportunity” on their website.
Other major projects that have received EB-5 Regional Center funding include the $180 million-plus George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal in New York, the transformation of a closed Navy yard in Philadelphia into a dynamic, multi-use development, now home to 130 companies and 10,000 employees; and the New York Wheel, a 630-foot tall Ferris wheel under construction on Staten Island.
Closer to home, Georgia has 30 EB-5 Regional Centers, including at least one other center operating locally.
The Southern Film Regional Center LLC, which has been operating in Atlanta for four years, was approved in 2014 to establish another EB-5 in the three-county Savannah Metro area of Chatham, Effingham and Bryan.
“We have several local projects in the pipeline here, including a hotel deal and a potential development, but nothing definite,” said Wendell Baines, EB-5 strategist for the group.
“Right now, our big projects are coming out of our Atlanta center,” he said
While it took well over a year to get the designation, the potential for Savannah’s newest center has not diminished, said WTC Savannah Vice President Brynn Grant.
“It’s good to remember why we pursued this program,” she said. “EB-5 is a job-creation program that attracts capital to our market, both of which are primary goals for SEDA and WTC Savannah.
“In addition to creating jobs and attracting investment, it also generates revenue, which will help WTC Savannah’s bottom line,” she said.
Now that they are official, Grant said the next few months will be taken up with actually launching the center.
“We need to develop a logo, letterhead, a website,” she said.
“We’ll be doing all those things as we work to identify and develop qualified projects.”
- Savannah World Trade Center for Investment
- Southern Film Regional Center
- Four Seasons Hotel
- Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino
- Gotham City Regional Center (Silverstein Properties Regional Center )
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
- SLS Hotel & Casino
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