Plan to attract foreign capital into region seeks U.S. OK

An initiative to jump-start the northern Nevada economy by drawing foreign capital into the region passes a key milestone this week.

Organizers of the private-sector effort expect to file an application with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service for a program that provides a green card to foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in designated projects.

The foreign investors wouldn't necessarily be required to live in northern Nevada, but their investment would need to create at least 10 jobs in the region.

The newly created Sierra Nevada Regional Center is seeking federal approval for its plan to begin linking foreign capital to northern Nevada projects through the so-called "EB-5 Visa" program of the Customs and Immigration Service.

Thomas Powell, the chief executive officer of Reno's ELP Capital and founder of the Sierra Nevada Regional Center, said the center initially would seek foreign capital to develop a 192-home assisted living center in south Reno. The project, Bordeaux at Boulevard South, would create an estimated 220 jobs and another 1,200 jobs as dollars from the construction ripple through the region's economy.

But first, Sierra Nevada Regional Center's backers need to win federal approval of their plan. About 120 similar centers have been established across the United States, although only a handful successfully attracted foreign investors and put the money to work.

Powell expects to learn within four to five months if the northern Nevada plan has been approved.

The second piece of the initiative attracting investors who want a U.S. visa in return would come after approval.

Powell said Sierra Nevada Regional Center brings a couple of competitive advantages to the task of wooing capital into the region.

For one, he said property values are so depressed in northern Nevada that the potential downside on real estate deals in the region is small.

The Sierra Nevada Regional Center also would benefit, he said, from contacts he's developed worldwide from his work as an instructor in the Office of Executive Education at Harvard University.

Along with capital from foreigners who want U.S. visas, the center's projects also would raise capital from domestic investors, Powell said.

The center's applications with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services has drawn support from Sen. Harry Reid, Congressman Dean Heller and state and local officials.

Sierra Nevada Regional Center expects to structure the investments so that they fit under Securities and Exchange Commission exemptions for private investments by wealthy and experienced investors.


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