mySA: Investor center program should become permanent

Washington, April 22, 2014

Investor center program should become permanent


As chairman of the Pro-Trade Caucus in Congress, I was active in leading efforts on trade agreements that create more American jobs and generate economic growth. Thanks in part to robust international trade and strong retail growth, Laredo's unemployment rate is lower than the national average.

But there is more we can do to propel it forward and further create more jobs.

The EB-5 Regional Program is a great example of creating partnerships that build innovative economic development tools that can strengthen our economy and enhance our competitiveness. It is among the most successful economic initiatives passed by Congress in the past quarter century and should be permanently authorized.

Laredo plays a significant role in generating economic activity far beyond its city limits. It is the leading inland port and third-largest Customs District in the U.S., among the fastest-growing cities in the country and ranks in the top 10 in small cities for jobs. Almost 45 percent of the more than $500 billion trade in goods and services between the U.S. and Mexico every year crosses through Laredo.

The city of Laredo partnered with Civitas Capital Group to create the Civitas Laredo Regional Center. EB-5 Regional Centers identify investment opportunities that create jobs for Americans and attract capital to those opportunities from foreign investors, who are granted conditional permanent residency in the U.S.

Since 2005, it has secured $4.7 billion in new capital from international investors and created 95,000 jobs without any cost to taxpayers.

We now have three EB-5 Regional Centers covering parts of South Texas. The recently approved Laredo Regional Center is already identifying investments that could be used to accelerate the development of many exciting new area projects.

Nationally, investment through the EB-5 Regional Center program has transformed regional economies by filling the gap for a lot of major programs from developing hotels to commercial real estate projects to enhancing infrastructure and health care, and it can do the same for our community.

Permanently authorizing the EB-5 Regional Center program is an idea that should attract bipartisan support in Congress. It already has strong backing among mayors across the country. The U.S. Conference of Mayors cited the positive impact the Regional Centers have on redevelopment funds as a reason for endorsing permanent reauthorization.

We have proven the concept's viability and effectiveness in Laredo and there is every indication that the concept will thrive and advance the economic development mission in communities across the country.

The globalized world in which we live means international investors can finance projects and build businesses almost anywhere. We need that money here in Laredo, and we can put it to good use. While the EB-5 Regional Center Program has been a success, it can do even more if Congress welcomes investors by making a long-term commitment to the program. With clear support, it could contribute $5 billion to communities around the country each year, including Laredo, and create tens of thousands of additional American jobs.

It is incumbent on Congress to identify new processes and programs that can leverage limited federal resources to create partnerships that will build our local economies and create jobs. The EB-5 program is a perfect example of that.

There is an increasingly global market waiting for Laredo. Congress should embrace the EB-5 Regional Center program as part of our national economic development by permanently authorizing it. And there's no time, nor good reason, to wait.