A MISSOULA GROUP is trying a different approach to entice foreigners to invest in projects in Montana - they are offering a fast track to U.S. citizenship.
The Northern Rockies Regional Center was formed last year to offer visas to high worth investors who pledge to send at least $500,000 for projects that create jobs in the area. Currently the center is focusing its efforts on attracting wealthy Chinese interested in living in the United States.
According to the Missoulian, several Chinese investors currently are planning to travel to Missoula this spring to tour an old mill site in downtown Missoula. Local investors have developed the Old Sawmill District on the site and are seeking investors to fund the $200 million project.
The first phase of the project calls for building two buildings, each with a pricetag of up to $20 million. Those buildings would house retail space and multifamily living units.
The Northern Rockies Regional Center was approved to offer the visas last year. Under the EB-5 Immigration Investor program, foreign investors are granted temporary permanent residency after being vetted by Immigration officials. After two years, if at least 10 jobs have been created through the investment, the investor is considered for permanent residency status.
The program is nothing new. It was created in 1990 as a way to spur economic growth across the United States. In all, more than 3,800 EB-5 applications have been filed across the country. The Northern Rockies Regional Center appears to be the first effort here in Montana to seek out those investors and convince them to invest in area projects.
So far, no investors have taken the center up on its offer but that could change this building season as three wealthy investors have trips planned to Missoula to review the project. To locate potential Chinese investors, the center has opened an office in Zhu Hai, China.
One of the center's founders, Ed Wetherbee, said that along with profits from their investments, Missoula's University of Montana also is among the draws being pitched to attract investors to the area.
"Their holy grail is to have their kids go to school in the United States," Wetherby said in a recent Missoulian article.
More than eight years already have been spent on remediation efforts on the site and preparing it for construction. Currently the 45 acres sits empty, waiting for building to begin.
The hope is to sign foreign investors this year and begin building in 2013.