EB5 Investors Magazine Volume 2 Issue 2 | Page 45

Bill Stenger is not only the driver of the Regional Center ’ s most high-profile project , but he was also instrumental in its origin story . In the late 1990s , after hearing about the Canadian immigrant investor program from visitors to the resort , Stenger approached then-Secretary of Commerce Bill Shouldice and then-Governor Howard Dean about bringing the U . S . EB-5 program to Vermont . As Stenger tells it , both Shouldice and Dean were receptive , recognized the potential of the program , and set off to Washington , D . C . to learn more . After meetings and countless hours of deliberations , the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center was born . At that time , it was the only government-operated regional center in the United States , and it would remain that way for many years .
Though not administratively affiliated with the Regional Center , Stenger and his company work closely with the center to develop EB-5 projects in the state of Vermont . Before any projects can go to market with a Vermont EB-5 Regional Center affiliation , the state ’ s Department of Commerce and their associated EB-5 experts must approve them . In addition to Stenger ’ s Jay Peak , the regional center works with about half a dozen other EB-5 projects in the state . Under the guidance of Brent Raymond , director of the regional center , the state provides oversight , ongoing reviews , and pre-approval of projects , according to their website . While EB-5 investors see green cards as their primary goal , “ above all else , the state and federal authorities are interested in the job creation . The visas are provided as a benefit to creating the jobs ,” says Stenger .
This thorough review lends an air of credibility when taking projects to a market full of investors who highly value certainty in their investments . And while the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center can offer no more guarantee than any other regional center , Stenger has seen how a government affiliation can boost investor confidence . Vermont EB-5 Regional Center officials , and other state officials , have repeatedly travelled abroad to promote EB-5 in conjunction with project developers . All that international travel gets expensive , however , and while “ traditional ” regional center principals can reach into their coffers and write off the expense as a cost of doing business , a state-run agency accountable to taxpayers has a little more difficulty doing so . In order to harness the true marketing power of in-person state support , Stenger has funded travel for state delegations in the past . According to Hillary Nies at the Vermont Digger — EB-5 is a regular feature in local press — Stenger fronted $ 100,000 for a recent promotional trip to Asia attended by Gov . Peter Shumlin .
In the same article , Nies details the financial structure of the regional center . While legislation allows the regional center to assess a $ 1,500 fee per investor , to cover administrative costs , the fee is not charged until the investor receives their green card , leaving the account balance lagging behind promotional needs . Careful of spending taxpayer money , Raymond and his team are still working out the nuances of who should be responsible for promotional travel , but for now , it ’ s up to the projects . It is clear that the state-run regional center is not lining its pockets with the sum of per-investor administrative fees , and Stenger underlines that direct revenue is not the point of the operation , “ I think that our state government sees the EB-5 program as , very simply , ‘ Let ’ s create jobs .’ The people who have those jobs are taxpayers in the state of Vermont , so the benefit is going to be : the more jobs that are created by EB-5 , the more taxpayers there are in the state of Vermont .”
Despite the success of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center , Stenger is hesitant to recommend the model to the rest of the country : “ I know what has worked for us , I know what fits right for Vermont . But every state is not like Vermont , and I would not necessarily recommend that other state governments do this because the administrative reality other states may be different . We ’ ve benefited from this , others perhaps could , but I would leave that up to the individual states to decide .” The state of Michigan , however , is testing its luck ; the State of Michigan EB-5 Regional Center was approved by USCIS in late March 2014 , according to the office of Gov . Rick Snyder . It is yet to be seen how Michigan will operate the country ’ s second EB-5 public-private partnership and what new benefits foreign investors will bring to the state .
With a small , mostly rural population , and heavily involved state representatives , it seems that Vermont and EB-5 were made for one another . Stenger , for one , is happy with the relationship , “ We are held accountable for what we do , and I guess some people might say , ‘ Well , gee , I don ’ t want the state looking over my shoulder ,’ but I don ’ t mind that . There ’ s nothing wrong with being held to a high standard , and we don ’ t run from that .”
Ever the Vermont patriot , Stenger is a champion of the rural character of the EB-5 program and would like to see the butfor-this-source-of-funds concept of the program preserved . As he sees it , the program was originally intended to provide a source of funding for projects that would otherwise not have access to capital , “ We could not have done what we ’ ve done at Jay Peak were it not for this program .” According to Stenger , at least in Vermont , “ The EB-5 program is really something that every elected official can embrace .”

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