Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy At Jay Peak For The Announcement Of A $500 Million Economic Development Initiative Made Possible By The EB-5 Program

It is a great pleasure to be with all of you today.  And it is even more special to be here on the heels of Congress’ passage of a reauthorization for the EB-5 Regional Center Program.  I’m delighted that we persevered right to the end of the congressional session and that my bill reached the President’s desk right on time for today’s announcements.  

About a year ago, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce recognized Bill as Vermont’s 2011 Citizen of the Year – largely in recognition of what he has given to the Northeast Kingdom already.  Well Bill, I understand your staff had a little fun at your expense that night – and I have some evidence of that.  Today I am proudly wearing a pin from that night that proclaims “I know Bill”.  After today’s announcement, there are going to be a few more people who know who you are and what you are doing.

The EB-5 regional center program has incentivized hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investment here in America.  It has created tens of thousands of jobs across the country.  It has spurred more than two hundred million worth of investment here in Vermont.  It has created thousands of jobs here in the Northeast Kingdom alone.  Perhaps most importantly, it has not cost the tax payer a single penny.

At a time when so much American investment is incentivized off shore, isn’t it nice to see a government program that brings foreign investment onshore?

Perhaps the most important reasons I support this program are standing right here in this room:  Bill, Ari, the “other Bill” -- Bill Kelly -- and Governor Shumlin.  There are a few thousand other reasons I support the program not too far outside of this room: the men and woman who built this resort, who work in the waterpark, who make the snow on this mountain (not that it needs all that much man-made snow), and who run the Jay Country Store, or who run the stores in downtown Newport.  As they say, the proof is in the pudding.  Bill, you make a hell of a pudding.

Within the past two months, both the Senate and the House passed a bill I authored to extend the EB-5 regional center program for another three years.  I should point out that it passed the Senate unanimously and it passed the House on a 412-3 vote.  I mention this to emphasize not only how popular this program is, but to recognize that even in matters of immigration policy, elected officials are capable of being fairly agreeable when matters of job creation and community improvement are at stake.  And this is particularly true where there is no cost to the taxpayer involved. 

Here in Vermont, Bill and our state leaders led an effort to create Vermont’s Regional Center charter in 1996.  As the credit market tightened, many around the country have looked to the Regional Center program as a way to raise investment capital.   In 2008, there were approximately 25 regional centers.  Today, there are nearly 200. 

But what made and makes Vermont’s regional center unique is that it is state run.  The Agency of Commerce and Community Development – ably in the hands of Governor Shumlin and Secretary Lawrence Miller –review potential EB-5 projects and put the state’s stamp of approval on the project.  This partnership is one of the keys to success of a place like Jay, or a place like Newport, or a place like Burke.  I want to commend Governor Shumlin, and his predecessors, for the care they’ve given to this program.

I have seen firsthand the impact the Vermont regional center process can have on a potential investor.  In 2008, Bill and I traveled to Ireland together.  More importantly, MJ and Marcelle were there too.  On that trade mission, Bill introduced me to a few hundred of his closest Irish friends interested in investing.  They had confidence in Bill, but they also had confidence in Vermont.

Our immigration system is a welcoming, inclusive system.  We welcome people from all walks of life — the man or woman seeking asylum and escape from a repressive home country, the refugee who is resettled after years of struggle, the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen, a talented musician or athlete.  In our vast and inclusive system, there is plenty of room for us to welcome those who wish to invest in our communities and through that investment, become new Americans.  In doing so, we join Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other nations that recognize the value of providing immigration opportunities through investment. 

I would have liked to have provided foreign investors looking for opportunities in Vermont, and all of you, with the certainty that a longer authorization provides, but I believed that the compromise we reached was a far better result than letting this program terminate – delaying announcements like todays – or worse yet, letting these opportunities evaporate. 

I plan to continue my efforts to make this important program a permanent fixture in our immigration law.  As I move forward to not only make this program permanent, but improve it, I look forward to hearing from Vermonters about the ways in which we can make this program even stronger.  Like many programs, there is room for improvement in the EB-5 Regional Center Program.  I would like to make sure that the immigration agency has all the tools it needs to administer this program in an efficient and secure manner.  And I would like entrepreneurs and investors to feel a high level of confidence in using it. 

Before I wrap things up, I want to point out to Bill and his partners that to date, this visa program has actually been undersubscribed.  It has a cap of 10,000 visas annually.  I see no reason why Vermont can’t be the reason the program is oversubscribed…so get working. 

Thank you and congratulations on these new ventures that promise to put Vermonters to work and transform the region’s economy.

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