How I ... Find foreign investors for WNY

The four-person team at EB-5 New York State manages an incredibly complex task.
The company, founded in 2007, finds foreigners who are looking to obtain U.S. green cards and then pairs them with projects that must meet job-creation criteria.
It does all this while operating under the framework of the federal EB-5 program, under which the company is designated a “Regional Center” with the right to operate throughout the state.
The federal program allows foreign investors to back projects at $500,000 per family in return for two-year green cards. At the end of those two years, the investments are reviewed by the federal government. If it meets job-creation measures, that green card becomes permanent. EB-5 New York is situated in the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center and has successfully administered four investments. Company leaders also say they’re undergoing a substantial increase in its pipeline, with five new projects that look like they’ll be finalized.
President and CEO William Gresser explained how it works.

The first thing we do is find the project. We find the thing that is creating new U.S. jobs. That can be very hard because we only work with established developers on bigger projects, the projects we know are going forward and that we feel absolutely confident will create jobs.

It is getting much easier now because bigger developers are contacting us every day asking us if we can raise EB-5 capital for their projects, and big developers can mean hospitals, large companies in the area and large companies that are coming to the area. We want to be able to provide capital conveniently to projects that are creating jobs, and we’ve had a number of projects where developers and banks have specifically said, “If it wasn’t for EB-5 capital, I don’t know how this would have gone forward.”

Most of the inquiries come from Upstate New York. It’s very common for us to get calls from Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Schenectady. We’re also getting calls from banks asking us to help on projects they’re doing.

We structure the investments as a loan (by which the investor is eventually repaid). With the EB-5 program, you can invest into anything, it can be a startup biotech company, but EB-5 investors are looking for low-risk, for the creation of U.S. jobs so they can get the visa and the repayment of their capital at some stage.

The vast majority of investors that come to us are referred. It’s against the law for us to advertise or to market to them, so they come to us through attorneys, accountants, broker-dealers, wealth advisers. We also get references from prior clients. They have to be able to invest $500,000, but the real reason why nearly every single one of them does this is for their children. They want to give their children the opportunity to live and go to school in the U.S. That’s true for about 90 percent of the people, while about 5 percent want religious freedom and tolerance, and another 5 percent do it for other reasons.

Across the entire EB-5 program, about 80 percent of the investors are Chinese, but with our company, only about 15 percent are Chinese. The rest come from all over the world.

We’re among the top 2 percent of regional centers in the U.S. for number of projects and type of projects, but the most important thing for our success is we’ve had success achieving government objectives of job creation. So our real competitive advantage is our experience in structuring projects with low risk for everybody, from developers to investors to the bank.
We are constantly looking for good and new high-quality projects, and every one generally takes a lot of time to get ready. It’s usually a pretty short process to raise the investment; the last project took two or three months to fill up all the units. We’re very selective on the projects and very selective on the investors.

We’re growing very quickly and we expect to do four to five projects a year. But the industry as a whole is maxed out. It’s raising as much money as allowed under U.S. law. The number of investors is only 10,000 a year. We’re really hopeful Congress will raise the limit. We’re working very hard to make sure the program is reauthorized, but with some reforms. We’d like the ability to make it permanent and to have more visas so we can raise more capital, invest more and create more jobs.


As told to Dan Miner of Business First of Buffalo.   Published May 15, 2015.