MEXICO CITY – Dallas officials have a bona fide offer for a group of wealthy Mexican business people: Invest in Dallas and earn a ticket out of Mexico.
The program – known as the City of Dallas Regional Center – facilitates a green card visa for foreign investors who pony up between half a million and $1 million for job-creating projects in Dallas. The visa program is handled in partnership with the U.S. federal government.
“People want flexibility to move back and forth,” said Karl Zavitkovsky, director of Dallas economic development, who helped promote the program this week to 25 potential investors.
The three-day visit ended Thursday.
Although the investor visa – which also includes green cards for spouses and dependents – may not be incentive enough for a large investment decision, it is clearly a draw in a country that over the past four years has suffered a radical increase in violence.
In Mexico, the flight of businesspeople and homegrown capital is a direct response to its dire security problem. More than 30,000 people have been killed since December 2006, and thousands have been kidnapped, threatened or victimized by extortionists.
“People are saying, ‘I’m tired of driving around in an armored car – it’s not the kind of life my family and I want to live,’ ” Dallas City Council member Ron Natinsky, a promoter of the program, said in a phone interview.
In recent months, businesspeople from northern cities including Ciudad Juárez and Monterrey have slipped over to Texas, taking temporary, or permanent, refuge in cities from El Paso to San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. There are no hard numbers, but Mexican newspapers estimate thousands of wealthier Mexicans have left for Texas and the U.S.
This week, Dallas officials said they met in Mexico City with prospective investors from a range of industries and interests: energy, entertainment, real estate, sports; one owns a popular Mexican soccer club. They declined to name the prospective investors.
The regional center and its private-sector partner, Civitas Capital Management, say they have between $200 million and $300 million in projects at some stage of the pipeline.
Among them, a $15 million loan for a real estate development anchored by a call center has been the first fully subscribed. Thirty foreign investors from around the world signed on, about a third of them from Mexico.
A second project would fund the expansion of a Hispanic-oriented restaurant franchise in Dallas, and a third involves a boutique hotel, said Jason Barnes, Civitas chairman.
The Mexico City trip was the third in less than three months to this country. Barnes says the three recent Mexico trips netted conversations with more than 100 prospective lenders, largely in small groups or one-on-one.
Zavitkovsky says the goal is to meet with between 250 and 500 investors a year.