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Research and Analysis

Understanding the urban economic ecosystem

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Driving URban Economic Growth: ISSUE 2

Published July 1, 2014
By Kim Zeuli and Brian Hull


Executive Summary

Impact investing holds significant promise for directing more resources to America’s distressed urban core. The EB-5 program could be an effective investment tool to achieve this goal but it is underutilized.

The EB-5 program was created by the U.S. government in 1990 to improve economic conditions, especially in high poverty and high unemployment urban and rural areas, by attracting foreign capital to support investments that create local jobs. Interest in EB-5 as a new investment tool was relatively limited until the recent recession and subsequent contraction of more traditional sources of capital.

Today, there are approximately 440 EB-5 regional centers operating across the U.S. and last year the government received over 6,300 applications to the EB-5 program. A recent report by Brookings estimates that since 1990 the EB-5 program has captured approximately $5 billion in direct investments and created over 85,000 full-time jobs.

Given the lack of publically available data, it is unclear whether the program has benefited the nation’s most economically distressed areas, including inner cities. The EB-5 program seems to have been largely overlooked by city governments, economic development corporations, foundations and other organizations actively promoting inner city investment.

This may be due in part to the relative obscurity and complexity of the program. The program also unfortunately suffers from a negative reputation due to a few high-profile cases of fraud and the bureaucratic labyrinth associated with many government programs.

Our extensive research identified 178 EB-5 projects across the U.S. and numerous examples of successful projects that could be replicated to increase employment and revitalize urban areas.

We present five case studies in this report:

  • University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park: Miami, FL
  • NYLO Dallas South Side Hotel: Dallas, TX
  • Memory Care Centers: Chicago, IL
  • E3 Cargo Trucking: Indianapolis, IN
  • Education Fund of America Charter Schools

The purpose of this report is to stimulate a new dialogue by offering insights into the potential of the EB-5 program as a tool for impact investing in inner cities. A set of recommendations is offered to the community of organizations engaged in impact investing to help them fully leverage this tool to maximize economic opportunity in distressed urban areas.


  • Develop an educational campaign to increase awareness about the opportunities and challenges of the EB-5 program, particularly in connection with traditional economic development tools.
  • Build a nexus of EB-5 experts that could be leveraged in urban areas across the U.S. to provide the necessary technical assistance.
  • Identify and invest in EB-5 projects to direct more projects to distressed urban areas, accelerate EB-5 deals in target neighborhoods, and ensure successful outcomes.

As a national research and strategy organization, ICIC is well positioned to support the execution of these report recommendations. Please contact ICIC's Senior Vice President Kim Zeuli at or 617-238-3012 to begin the conversation.

Driving Urban Economic Growth Series

This series publishes ICIC’s original research that addresses urban economic and business development issues. 

The reports focus on three critical drivers of urban revitalization: 

Improve the local business environment

Implement a cluster-based growth strategy


Support the growth of inner city businesses

This issue includes insights into the first economic growth driver: improve the local business environment.

How Does EB-5 Work?

    Download ICIC's EB-5 Infographic 

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