Major projects are in the works for McAllen that could be real earth-shattering events
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition November 2019
For many that do not know, the EB-5 Regional Center is a fast track platform exclusive for foreign investors that wish to become U.S. citizens.
The employment-based fifth preference category visa program, better known as EB-5, was created by Congress in 1990. The plan is supposed to be simple. You invest, create jobs in the United States, and this immigration program allows you and your family to gain permanent residency in the U.S.
Roy Rodriguez, McAllen city manager and the president of McAllen EB-5, said that the investment must benefit the U.S. economy by creating at least ten full-time jobs. “The program is unique for foreign investors with a desire to live, work, or retire in the United States.”
McAllen created its own EB-5 Regional Center in 2012 managed as a separate entity of the City of McAllen with Rodriguez as the president and the McAllen City Commission as its board. Thanks to former mayor Richard Cortez, Rodriguez was given another hat to wear. This responsibility required him to work with a complicated process, where you get to deal with the federal government in the most meticulous way. You can also add tedious.
Rodriguez pointed out that in 2016, the EB-5 effort delivered the 121-suite Cambria Hotel. The property was developed by Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel companies, O’Reilly Hospitality Management Company, Hankin Enterprises, and Fulcrum Management.
He said that The Cambria Hotel was an excellent project for a lot of reasons. One of the primary reasons was that the City was not able to get hotels to come around the convention center.
“The project was actually in the works and had basically died, and when the new city administration came in, there was a different attitude.” He continued, “We are not waiting for things to happen; we are going to make them happen.”
So, in 2014, people saw a dramatic change; things began to look different. Ever since the Convention Center was built, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and the McAllen Convention & Visitors Bureau were advocating for more hotels. Rodriguez said that once the exceptionality of Cambria Hotel was anchored through an EB-5 effort, they were able to bring the rest.
On Wednesday, September 11, 2019, McAllen EB-5 Regional Center announced the unique partnership with Houston EB-5 that promises the expansion of investment opportunities. The ceremony of this announcement took place at the Cambria Hotel, a project made possible by foreign investors.
The fact that this partnership became a reality is because Houston EB-5 asked McAllen to consider it. Rodriguez said, “When you say Houston, you’re talking about something big. They’re currently embarking in a $500 million project in Houston to create a multi-use area.” He continued, “To partner with an organization of this magnitude and their willingness to do it means among other things that they realize the value of the Rio Grande Valley in general.”
Rodriguez pointed out that the process of the EB-5 is challenging and tedious. It begins with getting all the parties together and dealing with the U.S. Government that actually does the approval of the immigration status for those people seeking residency here.
The plan is to market both regional centers together. He said, “Any prospect from another country looking to become a U.S. citizen coming through us, we refer to Houston, and we will get a referral fee. And also, the other way around.”
The partnership goes beyond a referral fee. Rodriguez said that there are plans for a couple of big projects for the near future that may be a good model for EB-5 investors. “We’re not sure yet, but we think that it’s possible. And if so, I think that we’re going to see the success that helps everyone.”
He mentioned that bringing millions of dollars from investors from other countries delivers double. Investors realize their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens, and the bonus is, the RGV communities get a great project.
Marketing Houston EB-5 has a significant attraction. However, Rodriguez said that McAllen has done an excellent job branding itself in multiple markets. “McAllen has a certain brand to it that people want to work and gravitate to,” he said.
Is Mexico one of the marketing targets? “Always, I mean, Mexico always has to be.” He said, “Because of their proximity, the relationship that we have with our border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, and Monterey and now Mexico City; they go beyond being neighbors.”
He went on to say, “I always call them our brothers and sisters. They’re our family, and so they always have to be in the mix.”
Aside from Mexico, Rodriguez said the focus is Asia, where there are many investors. For those millionaires, the rules of engagement changed at the beginning of October 2019. Now there is a $900,000 investment, instead of the half-million that used to be before.
What kind of projects is McAllen looking for? “McAllen luckily has always had a way to make things happen on our own. However, that’s not always true.” He said, “A project that comes to my mind is the Anzalduas bridge. We can’t do more to the Anzalduas bridge alone. We need help from the state and the federal government. And along with that, we may be able to look at private partnerships to build more.”
Rodriguez said that there are other private-public projects in the books; some are very confidential. He said, “But if those move forward, they’re going to be real earth-shattering events.” He continued, “The magnitude of these projects is they are going to be developments that we’ve never seen before in our region.”
As part of the marketing efforts, the City does regular trips to Mexico. One of those trips is happening to Monterey this month. “The primary goal of step one is to get our name back in the market and tell people our doors are open. Let’s talk about who’s interested.” To finalize Rodriguez said, “This time, the trip to Monterrey is wholly to promote the EB-5McAllen-Houston.”