Norwich may seek investors overseas to help grow local economy
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Feb. 28, 2011
Towns and cities in the region may go courting foreign investors to spark the local economy and trim unemployment rolls.
State, city and local officials, along with area businesspeople, discussed the pitfalls and advantages of several investment proposals at a Feb. 23 meeting in Norwich City Hall. Attorney Dana Bucin, who specializes in immigration and international business law, explained how the various plans could create jobs for American citizens.
A foreign investor who can front $1 million in a local business that creates at least 10 full-time jobs for American citizens would be eligible to obtain a conditional green card, said Bucin. An investor with half that amount can invest in a targeted area of high unemployment, called a regional center, with the same result, she said.
At the end of two years, if the business is still solvent, the investor will receive a permanent green card, said Bucin. “The investor is taking a lot of risk, bringing their family here on a [conditional] green card, only to be deported if they don’t generate the jobs,” she said.
There’s a risk to the community too, though. Once the investor has a permanent green card, after the two-year trial, he or she has no further obligation to maintain the business. Also, Bucin said, there are no requirements that the jobs meet any specific wage standard. She noted, though, that at present about 83 percent of such investments prove successful.
The program, designated EB-5 (employment-based immigration, level 5) is overseen by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. According to the U.S. State Department website, such immigrants must meet all other requirements for a visa in order to participate.
Investors currently taking part in the program primarily hail from China, Bucin said.
Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons reported that during his recent trip to Wuxi, China, he found that there’s great interest there in investment in U.S. business. Housing in Connecticut is highly affordable by Chinese standards, and, while citizens in China can own houses, they don’t own the land their houses occupy, he said.
Norwich is situated in a particularly attractive area, he said – in close proximity to world-class educational institutions like Connecticut College and Yale. In addition, there’s already a thriving Chinese community in the area. “This is a friendly place for foreign investors – a friendly place for Chinese investors,” he said.
That’s true even though other nations offer similar plans requiring smaller investments, said Libo Suen, director of operations for the International Association for Cultural Exchange. “Australia and Canada are about half the price, but there’s only one U.S.,” he said. Wealthy Chinese “want to look for the opportunity to grow their wealth.”
When asked whether the Norwich region could qualify as a regional center, with its lower investment requirement, attorney Samuel Browning said that the designation only applies to rural towns or communities of high unemployment. "Connecticut is running at approximately 9.6 percent [unemployment]," he said. "We'd have to tip the scales at 15 percent to qualify."
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said that the prospect of attracting investment from overseas to jump-start job creation bears further investigation. “We don’t want quick fixes,” he said. “Our communities have to put themselves in a position to reap the benefits and to welcome new visitors.”
Simmons said that the group would meet again Mar. 22 to “take it to the next level.
“I think there’s very positive support from the business community for all of this,” he said.