The Statesman Group of Companies is looking to wealthy investors in China and an increasingly popular immigration program to help finance its $300 million Pleasant Harbor Marina and Golf Resort in Brinnon.
M. Garth Mann, president and CEO of Statesman Group, believes the project could create “hundreds, if not thousands” of jobs over the life of the resort, which he would like to see started in 2011.
Proposed on 256 acres at Black Point are an 18-hole golf course, hotel and conference center and up to 890 residential units. Proponents say it would be a boon to the rural and economically depressed South County; opponents argue the project is too large and would change the character of the area.
Mann has requested help designating Jefferson County and part of Mason County as a “regional center” under a federal immigration program called an EB-5 visa program. It connects “high net-worth” foreigners with projects in areas of high unemployment in exchange for possible citizenship status.
If created, the center, under the auspices of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, would be the first rural regional center in the state and the only one on the Olympic Peninsula.
Statesman also is in the process of setting up an office in Beijing to help find those investors.
To qualify as a regional center, Mann is seeking the help of various state agencies.
The state Employment Security Department certifies areas as having high unemployment. Brinnon has an unemployment rate of 15.5 percent, according to state employment officials.
Employment Security spokesman Jamie Swift said Statesman has not formally asked to validate Brinnon’s unemployment rate, although they have communicated informally.
“Based on the estimated annual average unemployment rate for 2009, the Brinnon area has an unemployment rate of 15.5 percent, which is 150 percent of the national average,” Swift said. The 150-percent threshold would qualify Brinnon for the EB-5 designation, which has grown popular as bank lending has tightened.
In 2009, the state provided labor market information for three EB-5 requests. This year so far, the state has had 11 requests for information, Swift said.
“We’re looking for investors and also the opportunity to create employment in the area,” Mann said Monday from Statesman’s Canadian headquarters in Calgary.
No bank loans
Like other companies in Washington and around the United States, Mann said he is looking outside the country for funding because banks are no longer lending for projects such as his.
“Where do you get financing today? Look around your backyard. There’s no money left. Where else can you get money?” Mann asked Monday.
“If you look at the economies around the world that are doing well, which countries are those? It’s China, for sure. India is plus 8 percent. Brazil is plus 5 percent. Canada and Australia are growing. But the rest of the world isn’t doing well,” he said.
The EB-5 proposal for Brinnon would be a first for the company and the Olympic Peninsula, Mann said.
“The United States is in dire need of employment,” Mann said. “I think it’s an ingenious program if you think about it. The country could use some immigration of people who are coming in to contribute and provide financing and provide jobs and interest in the community.”
Mann was quick to point out that in Arizona, where Statesman has its U.S. headquarters, residents are protesting that poor immigrants from Mexico are costing taxpayers when they use schools, roads, facilities and services. That state’s controversial response was a new law allowing police to ask anyone for documents to prove he or she is legally in the state.
$500,000 to $1 million
Conversely, the EB-5 immigration program is aimed at attracting wealthy investors who can pay up to $500,000 or even $1 million to invest in an area in exchange for visas. The immigrants Mann wants to attract must prove to U.S. immigration authorities they have the means not only to live in the United States but also to invest in businesses like the Brinnon resort, which in turn would create jobs.
Mann said he does not envision those investors would live in Brinnon.
“We envision a lot of them being students,” Mann said.
He noted that China has had a one-child-per-family policy and he expects that he will be looking to attract wealthy people who would want a child to attend universities in Washington.
“The applicants are all individuals. Whether they come from China or India, no one knows,” he said.
“The mandate is for everyone who qualifies under EB-5, we would be required to create eight to 10 jobs. We’re not bringing over people to seek employment. They would be interested in investing,” Mann said.
Other regional centers
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has final say over whether a “regional center” is created.
Regional centers in Washington have been set up by American Life, Inc. in Lakewood to support a variety of industries from warehouses to hotels. Centers also have been established in Renton, Everett, Federal Way, Tacoma and Bellingham.
“It’s one of the few rural areas that have been applied through the program so this is certainly unique from that perspective,” Mann said of his request. He hopes to know by the end of the year if the area can be designated as a regional center.
“I think the whole county could use some help,” Mann said.
Letter of support
Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow, has written a letter of support for Mann’s proposal.
“Anything we can do to encourage them to continue to move forward on their project I think will help South County,” Austin said Tuesday.
“The analogy that comes to mind is that when Hong Kong was transferred from British to China [control], a lot of folks came to the West Coast of Canada and brought their foreign funding with them and I understand that was a real boon to Canada in particular,” he said.
“It’s very fortunate that the federal government has created this avenue for foreign dollars to come forward to finance local construction,” he added.