A start-up pharmaceutical firm on Wednesday announced plans to bring 200 new jobs to Charlotte, and officials said more jobs and more companies could follow under a federal program that links small businesses to wealthy foreign investors.
The startup, KenCord BioTherapeutics, is interviewing to fill about 200 sales, back office and other jobs in its new southwest Charlotte offices, said Chief Operating Officer Ken Wiggins.
The company, which will manufacture and sell prescription drugs, received a capital infusion through the Immigrant Investor Program, created by Congress in 1990 to attract foreign capital.
Under the program, wealthy foreigners invest at least $1 million – or at least $500,000 in a high-unemployment or rural area – in U.S. businesses. If cleared by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the investors receive U.S. visas.
In the 2012 budget year, more than 7,400 such visas were issued, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
“It’s not always (about) the visas,” said Yuseff Howard, head of Progressive Funding Solutions, the firm that administers the program in North Carolina and parts of South Carolina. “They’re looking for true investments and return on their investments.”
The money can be substantial. Howard said KenCord’s approximately $15 million project is receiving about $7 million through the program.
“We have several other projects coming up in back of KenCord that will create thousands of jobs,” he added.
During a press conference Wednesday at the Charlotte Chamber, officials credited N.C. Rep. Rodney Moore with making introductions that led to KenCord’s announcement. They said that Howard’s Fort Worth, Texas, based firm, Progressive Funding Solutions, will be opening an office in Charlotte.
Progressive runs the federal program’s N.C. East Coast Regional Center, one of more than 200 such centers nationally set up to connect investors from places such as Asia and Latin America to small businesses in the U.S. Howard said his center has investors from India, China, Brazil, Switzerland and parts of west Africa. He did not identify the specific investors for KenCord.
The program mandates that foreign investors’ capital must directly or indirectly create at least 10 U.S. jobs within two years.
Chamber officials said Progressive’s new Charlotte office could be a plus for small to medium-sized manufacturers locally who need alternative funding. Jeff Edge, vice president for economic development with the chamber, said local officials have long known about the foreign investor program, but haven’t until now been able to make extensive use of it.
Todd Rubin, an attorney in the Parker Poe law firm’s Raleigh office, said many foreign investors in such programs hail from China. Rubin, who has handled immigration cases for foreign investors, said the bureaucracy of the program can make it hard to navigate, with projects sometimes taking months for processing.
“It’s not the fastest way to raise capital,” he said. But “as long as the economic projects are solid, it’s a good program.”
Frazier: 704-358-5145; @Ericfraz on Twitter
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