"Let's be honest, Kingdom kids often have to leave Vermont to make a living or leave the Kingdom and I want Kingdom kids to be able to make a living in the Kingdom," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.
Gov. Shumlin will leave Vermont and the country Saturday in an effort to create more economic opportunities in the Northeast Kingdom. He and members of his administration are set to spend nine days wooing potential Chinese and Vietnamese EB-5 investors.
"I will be talking about Vermont: great workforce, great place to grow jobs, great opportunities," Shumlin said.
The EB-5 program grants foreign investors a green card in exchange for $500,000 and greater development proposals.
Program dollars allowed for Jay Peak's recent massive expansions and Shumlin hopes more foreign capital will speed further development in the struggling Northeast Kingdom.
But in the heat of his campaign three years ago, Shumlin suggested international business agreements had harmed the Green Mountain State.
"As Brian Dubie and others have traveled to Asia they have taken more jobs with them than they brought back to Vermont. In their tenure in the last decade we have lost over 6,000 jobs to Asia," Shumlin said in October 2010.
At the time, Shumlin questioned the timing and efficacy of then-Gov. Jim Douglas' taxpayer funded, 12-day, $35,000 EB-5 trip to Asia. Brian Dubie, the Republican candidate for governor, did not go but had made a previous business-oriented trip.
"No, I would not discontinue anything that is succeeding, but I do not think the answer to our economic problems is junkets to China," Shumlin said then.
Since taking office, Shumlin has worked closely with Jay Peak's Bill Stenger on EB-5 proposals-- so what's changed?
"I don't recall being critical of any particular trip that Gov. Douglas made. He did a good job as governor trying to grow jobs," Gov. Shumlin said Thursday.
Shumlin says he has always supported the EB-5 program, just not its previous funding method. At his urging, the 2011 Legislature shifted the funding requirements for EB-5 trips from taxpayers to investors.
Jay Peak will front the cost for the upcoming trip, leading some to question if the arrangement creates an ethical dilemma.
"Well, let me ask the question differently; would it be all right to ask taxpayers to pay for my trip?" Shumlin said. "We have people in the department who do nothing but EB-5, they travel constantly. I felt it was wrong to ask Vermont taxpayers to pick up that cost when there's a benefit to the entrepreneurs that are promoting the program."
The governor says Vermont receives 20 percent of the EB-5 investments made nationwide, but was the only state covering the cost of trips prior to the change.
The upcoming trip comes as Stenger and Shumlin seek to secure half-a-billion dollars for projects in the Northeast Kingdom. The effort suffered a recent setback when program administrators pulled plans with a German window manufacturer. Every $500,000 invested must create 10 jobs, but the manufacturer intended to lean heavily on mechanization.
"So, I think the team did the right thing and said, 'Hey, we play by the rules and this isn't going to work,'" Shumlin said.
But Shumlin says it's crucial that the EB-5 program continues to work for the Northeast Kingdom and the state. If it works, it's a model backers say could be copied in other parts of the Green Mountains.