By Kathy Jefcoats
FOREST PARK — Now that it has been designated a Targeted Employment Area, city officials can accept funds from foreign investors for development projects on Ft. Gillem.
Without the designation, foreign investors would have to come up with at least $1 million to participate in development, said Forest Park City Attorney Robert Mack.
“Private foreign investors who want to come to America have to invest at least $1 million without the TEA designation,” he said. “But with TEA in place, they only need half that amount.”
The program is offered under EB-5, which was created by Congress for economic stimulus from immigrant investors motivated in part by access to permanent residency in the United States. EB-5 is administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and allows qualified immigrants to invest money from a lawful source into new commercial enterprises that will create 10 or more new, full-time jobs per investor.
In exchange, the investor gets a temporary green card, also known as a permanent resident visa. The jobs must be created within two years.
Getting the TEA designation wasn’t a slam dunk for Forest Park. The initial unemployment numbers didn’t quite meet the qualifications, said Mark G. Watson, director of Workforce Statistics and Economic Research for the Georgia Department of Labor.
“This census tract does not qualify as a TEA based on its 2011 annual average unemployment rate of 6.6 percent,” Watson said. “However, the combined statistics for contiguous census tracts in Clayton County provide an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent for the particular geographic area.”
According to Watson’s numbers, there is a labor force of 39,731 in Forest Park with 5,369 unemployed. The national average unemployment rate for 2011 was 8.9 percent. To qualify for the EB-5 program, an area must experience 150 percent of the national average rate, or 13.3 percent or greater.
Mack said State Rep. Mike Glanton of Jonesboro was the driving force behind getting the TEA designation.
“We couldn’t have done this without Mike Glanton,” said Mack. “I wish the rest of the legislative delegation was like him, he’s a go-getter.”
Glanton said he was proud to work with the city to get the deal approved.
“As a result of the TEA designation, it immediately exposes the city and special projects to over 400 International enterprises representing over 30 nations,” he said. “I am extremely excited about the possibilities. I also want to commend the city and its staff for seizing this great opportunity and aggressively pursuing the projects and investors.”
The designation could bring millions of dollars into Forest Park.
“Through forged business relationship with various domestic and international investment groups through the EB-5 program, we were able to begin the process of acquiring $20 million-$60 million for development projects the region,” said Glanton. “Our collective message to potential investors is that Forest Park and our region are ready and able to invite them in to contribute to our growth, enhancement and ultimately economic success.”
The result will be the creation of jobs and opportunities for the city and Clayton County.
“This effort will also help local businesses move further into the global markets by matching locals with international business interest in the process of working on our projects already identified,” said Glanton. “These increased opportunities to marry investors with our local municipalities and businesses will help in creating jobs and opportunities for the city of Forest Park, Clayton County and the entire region.”
Forest Park city officials finalized a $30 million deal in January 2012 to buy Fort Gillem from the U.S. Army. It was a transaction more than five years in the making. The Army retains a 250-acre enclave that includes its Criminal Investigations Division Crime Lab, a state of the art facility, but 1,170 acres will be developed by Forest Park into industrial, manufacturing, warehouses and business park tracts.