Looks as if the federal EB-5 golden goose program isn’t providing eggs as quickly for Vermont businesses as it had been. EB-5 programs in some states are experiencing various problems, and dozens of disappointed investors – many of them from China – are suing US EB-5 businesses. Serious allegations of fraud recently shut down one large project in Chicago. Foreign investors are hearing the sound of sour notes in all this negative noise.
Meanwhile here in Vermont The Trapp Family Lodge had hoped EB-5 would fuel major expansion projects. EB-5 is the Federal program that allows potential immigrants to invest $500,000 in approved job-creating business ventures in exchange for a green card for themselves and their families. According to The Wall Street Journal Johannes von Trapp hoped for $22 million in Chinese EB-5 investments to renovate existing facilities, build new timeshare units and expand their craft beer brewery.
Due to recent losses from the recession The Trapp Family lodge qualified as a “troubled business” under EB-5 regulations. The investments, according to the Von Trapp’s economist, will preserve 200 of the lodge's’ existing jobs.
In the offering materials, Mr. von Trapp's economist asserts the finished project will not only preserve 200 jobs at the lodge, but also will create 904 new jobs within three years – 66 jobs at the Trapp Lager brewery and restaurant, and the rest "indirect" jobs as the capital spending ripples through the economy.
It isn’t clear what kind of formula they use for these job estimates but it seems they anticipate an aggressive "ripple" ratio of direct jobs to indirect jobs to take place: 12.7 "indirect" jobs for every direct job at the restaurant and brewery.
Many people in China may know only a little about Vermont, but they are reportedly familiar with the Von Trapp family story as told in The Sound of Music. An EB-5 marketing expert told the Von Trapps this familiarity would be a big plus in encouraging investment through the EB-5 visa/green card program. The 1965 musical has been officially shown in China since the late 1970s.
To capitalize on that familiarity, von Trapp took the show on the road to China:
Sam von Trapp, wearing a jacket like Christopher Plummer's in "The Sound of Music," presented a slide show. "Our motto at the Trapp Family Lodge is: 'A little bit of Austria, a lot of Vermont.'
. Von Trapp the elder even sang the Edelweiss song with school children in Beijing. And still, the von Trapps' efforts somehow failed to entice enough capital to meet their investment target. After three trips to China, the Trapp Family Lodge business landed only five investors worth $2.5 million, just over ten percent of their goal of $22 million from 44 visa-seeking investors.
When dressing up like a character from the Sound of Music, singing Edelweiss, and dangling US green cards fails to charm enough investors out of $500,000, it could be a clear sign the EB-5 boom days are just plain over. In simple business terms, and maybe even with a straight face, you could say the EB-5 market is, ahem, 'maturing.'