- A Hong Kong-based investment group last year bought the 166-employee Cascade Pacific Pulp mill in Halsey in a deal expected to be the first of many such acquisitions.
- The Chinese footwear giant Li Ning is investing $10 million into its North American operations headquartered in Portland, a symbol of China’s shift from manufacturing to design.
- A whopping 10 million board feet of Oregon wood is pouring out of Coos Bay each month, most of it bound for China. New export terminals also are being built on the Columbia River to feed Chinese demand for coal and soybeans.
- Schools from Concordia University in Portland to Southern Oregon University in Ashland are actively recruiting Chinese students.
- State representatives are fighting to ease travel restrictions for Chinese visitors, and enough tourists are expected that Port of Portland executive director Bill Wyatt predicts there will be a direct flight between Portland and China within the next 10 years.
Williams says the EB-5 projects her group is planning would create “well over 1,000 jobs” in remote forests and struggling urban centers throughout Oregon by financing urban development projects and woody biomass operations.
Chen’s projections are even more ambitious. His EB-5 plan calls for creating 2,000-3,000 jobs in Oregon over the next three years and 7,000 over the next five to seven years by investing in a wide variety of new and existing businesses that need fresh capital to expand.
The EB-5 program was created in 1990. It enables foreign investors who put $1 million into projects that create at least 10 jobs to receive green cards, provided the jobs remain after a two-year trial period. The program becomes doubly attractive for investors if an applicant can convince the federal government to approve an EB-5 regional center. The purpose of these regional centers is to funnel foreign investments into troubled areas with high levels of unemployment. Business Oregon is in charge of identifying those troubled areas around the state, while the regional center’s team is in charge of finding the money and investing in qualifying projects. For EB-5 projects in high-unemployment areas, the investment only needs to be $500,000 instead of a million, and indirect jobs as well as direct jobs can be counted toward the 10 jobs required per green card.
Currently there are 120 EB-5 regional centers in 35 states but none in Oregon. More than half of the centers — 63 — were approved in 2010. By far the biggest users of the program are investors from China seeking green cards. The program allows up to 10,000 green cards per year, a potential infusion of $5 billion to $10 billion in new capital to create jobs with no cost to taxpayers.
In June 2010 the Portland Development Commission put out a “request for expressions of interest” in establishing EB-5 regional centers in Oregon. PDC central city manager Peter Englander says EB-5 money could jump-start major projects that have stalled as traditional financing options have dried up, such as the Burnside Bridgehead, the Centennial Mills waterfront redevelopment and the Oregon Sustainability Center.
“The thing I like about this program is that you have to show the jobs,” says Englander.