The state is moving forward with development of a regional center to connect foreign investors to projects in Maine, such as a proposed $40 million Chinese medical tourism facility in Auburn.

Under a federal visa program, projects get financial backing and foreign investors get visas to live in the United States and, eventually, green cards to stay.

The program, known as EB-5, is administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A representative for a proposed Chinese medical tourism facility in Auburn has said such a regional center would be key to getting that $40 million project going.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development first considered becoming a regional center two years ago. In November 2016, department Commissioner George Gervais said he expected to hear from the federal government “any day now.”

The DECD would wait nearly another year. Approval came in September 2017.

“We kind of set this aside because we didn’t really know if it was ever going to come,” Gervais said Tuesday. “There was one member of our team who was quite persistent and lo and behold, we got approved.”

The department is establishing policies and procedures for the new center — important, Gervais said, considering the alleged fraud and other problems that have plagued some centers, including a variety of scandals at centers in Illinois, New York, Vermont, and Washington.

“We are studying those examples and we are just making sure we have all the proper controls, checks and balances in place so that this is nothing but positive for Maine,” Gervais said.

In 2013, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued an alert to warn investors about scams seeking to exploit the EB-5 program. The program remains controversial, even as it is touted by those related to President Donald Trump.

But Gervais believes the program, done right, can bring badly needed money to Maine projects.

This is not the first regional center for Maine. Over the years, private groups — including the owners and executives of Saddleback ski resort in Rangeley — have started regional centers here, but none has attracted any money to Maine, according to Gervais.

He said the state’s new regional center already has some project leaders “that are very interested” in participating in the program. One of them is Miracle Enterprise, a China-based group that plans to turn the former Lunn & Sweet Shoe Co. factory on Minot Avenue into a five-star resort catering to rich Chinese patients seeking American medical treatments.

Gervais said the Department of Economic and Community Development has not been in touch with Miracle Enterprise recently. Some project leaders haven’t yet heard about the state’s regional center approval, he said, so department staff will reach out to them soon.

“There are some projects who are aware of our approval and they are, of course, as you can imagine, applying pressure to get us going. But we still have to take our time to make sure we do it right,” Gervais said.

A representative for Miracle Enterprise could not be reached Tuesday.

Auburn Economic and Community Development Director Michael Chammings said he spoke to Miracle Enterprise’s project manager less than two months ago and the group was then working its business plan around the lack of a regional center.

“I’m sure they’re happy the program has been put into place,” he said.

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A representative for a proposed Chinese medical tourism facility in Auburn has said the regional center is key to getting the $40 million project going. (Sun Journal file photo)


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