Build a bridge, get a green card

 
 

A Washington company has just completed a $48 million state bond purchase to help pay for the replacement for the aging State Route 520 floating bridge. In return, its 95 foreign investors, mostly Chinese, will receive visas to live and work in the United States.

The innovative deal is believed to be the first time that the federal government’s Immigrant Investor Program (also known as EB-5) has been used to fund a public infrastructure project.

Mike Maddox of the Washington Regional Center, the company that set up the deal, says, “Purchasing bonds for the 520 bridge makes sense not only for our local community here in Western Washington but also for our investors from all around the world.”

The EB-5 program was set up in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Applicants are required to invest at least $1 million (or $500,000 in rural areas or regions of high unemployment) in a business that creates 10 or more full-time jobs and lasts for at least two years.

Although simply buying government bonds does not create any jobs, the Washington Regional Center project commissioned an economic study that counted the jobs expected to be generated over the bridge’s construction and 60-year-plus lifetime. The study also helped earn the project a "high unemployment area" designation from the state.

The EB-5 program requires that foreign investors’ money is at risk for a full two years (often stretching to three or four in practice) before they qualify for permanent residency. “One of the things we determined our investor wanted was security, and what’s more secure than government bonds?” says Mattox. “But we demonstrated bonds that had failed, where investors had lost their money. That met the criteria for investment risk.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved the groundbreaking deal in February. Mattox marketed the program worldwide over the summer and finalized the purchase of bonds last week. The foreign investors can now complete their immigration paperwork and could be moving to the U.S. within months.

“These are people who have really done well, coming over to start companies, create new jobs and buy homes,” says Mattox. “It helps everybody when they bring their wealth to America.”

Spotlight: Ranking the Banks

Spotlight: Ranking the Banks

State’s ‘Big 5’ remain the same in market share report.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Wells Fargo & Co. remains the second-largest bank in Washington state by deposits, per the FDIC’s annual Deposit Market Share Report. Will that change next year, given the news of Wells Fargo’s recent, um, less-than-savory customer relations in recent month? Or will depositors have forgotten and forgiven by then?
 
Hard to say. Unless a bank goes out of business or gets swallowed up by another, not much changes year to year in the market-share report, which reflects where bank deposits stood on June 30 each year. But rarely does a bank get fined $185 million for defrauding its customers (see page 64). So stay tuned.
 
In Washington state, Bank of America is perpetually No. 1 — by a large margin — and Wells Fargo No. 2. Rounding out the “Big 5” are JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank and KeyBank. Together, this quintet controls nearly 62 percent of the market share in Washington state. 
 
In that group, the biggest mover this year was JPMorgan Chase, which vaulted past U.S. Bank into third place statewide with a healthy increase of $1.7 billion in deposits. This doesn’t mean it was necessarily a bad year for U.S. Bank, which itself posted an increase of $1.1 billion in deposits. It’s just that, relatively speaking, some banks have better years than others. In fact, only one bank in the top 10 — Umpqua Bank — reported a decline (from $5 billion to $4.9 billion) in statewide deposits.
 
 
 
After the Big 5, the next five-largest banks by deposits are Washington Federal, Umpqua Bank, Columbia Bank, Banner Bank and Washington Trust Bank, which have a combined state market share of 15.6 percent.
 
Banner Bank moved into the top 10 statewide after acquiring AmericanWest Bank. Banner had been 12th in the statewide ranking in 2015; this year, it’s ninth, with $1.3 billion more in deposits.
 
The top five banks in the state are also the top five in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area, controlling 71 percent of the market. In the next tier, Columbia Bank moved from eighth to seventh and HomeStreet Bank from 10th to ninth. 
 
In Washington, no single bank may accumulate more than a 30 percent share of the state market. That figure used to be fairly standard across the country, but Congress gave states the authority to raise or lower their caps, and many in the past decade have chosen to eliminate them altogether. In the West, for instance, Oregon, Idaho, California, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii have no market-share caps.