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Inspired By Jay Peak, Mount Snow Looks To Court Foreign EB-5 Investors

Mount Snow has joined the growing list of Vermont businesses working to attract foreign capital with the prospect of permanent U.S. residency. The West Dover resort hopes to raise $52 million overseas through the EB-5 visa program.

Investors and their families will receive permanent green cards if the projects they help finance create enough jobs.

Peak Resorts bought the Mount Snow and Carinthia ski areas in 2007.  A few years later, the company won state approval for an ambitious master plan. It includes a 36,000-square-foot base lodge at Carinthia, a new snowmaking reservoir and 900 new residential units. Peak Resorts partner Dick Deutsch says the company has been trying to assemble financing for the plan.

Deutsch has also been watching Jay Peak and its co-owner Bill Stenger. The Northeast Kingdom resort has built a hotel, an indoor water park and more through the federal EB-5 immigrant visa program.

"We’ve followed their progress very carefully," Deutsch says. "And what Jay Peak and Bill Stenger have accomplished is tremendous and we hope that we can do something similar here at Mount Snow. We think we can."

"What Jay Peak and Bill Stenger have accomplished is tremendous and we hope that we can do something similar here at Mount Snow. We think we can." - Dick Deutsch, Peak Resorts

The state of Vermont has also been a strong EB-5 proponent. Vermont is the only state in the country that operates its own state-backed EB-5 Regional Center, which manages the program locally for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

That attracts investors, says Deutsch, "because there's government oversight. Every project is approved, sanctioned and overseen by the state to make sure that it complies with all of the U.S. Immigration Service regulations."

According to Brent Raymond, who directs the state’s EB-5 Regional Center, the program has a strong track record.

"Since 2007 we’ve had [more than] $300 million invested in our state," Raymond says.

The EB-5 program is designed to bring jobs and economic development to rural areas and regions where unemployment is high. In much of the U.S. the minimum investment is $1 million. In Vermont, meanwhile, it's $500,000.

Foreign nationals who invest $500,000 in a business or project through the program are granted temporary visas. If the investment results directly or indirectly in 10 new jobs, the investor and his or her immediate family receive permanent green cards.

Raymond says 600 temporary visas and 160 permanent green cards have been issued through the program in Vermont so far. He says the Vermont program has a high success rate because its projects are so carefully studied and screened.

"Since 2007 we've had [more than] $300 million invested in our state ... We approve less than 5 percent of projects that come to us seeking EB-5 approval." - Brent Raymond, EB-5 Regional Center Director

"We approve less than 5 percent of projects that come to us seeking EB-5 approval," Raymond says.

In other parts of the country, Raymond says, EB-5 regional centers are run by for-profit companies that may stand to gain directly from investments. That’s led to allegations of fraud and other problems.

Critics have also charged that the program pushes rich foreign investors to the head of the immigration waiting line. But Raymond says EB-5 visas are a small piece of Vermont’s immigration picture, and notes that the state has also welcomed very poor refugees from such countries as Bosnia and Sudan.

Last December, Gov. Peter Shumlin traveled to China with a group of business leaders and officials to help build contacts for future EB-5 financing. In January, Peak Resorts’ Dick Deutsch visited five Chinese cities with a similar purpose in mind.

"We got very good response," says Deutsch. "And I think it’ll grow as we keep going back to China and also other places where we roll our program out." Deutsch anticipates more traveling in the months ahead, not only to China but to the Middle East, South America and elsewhere.