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Brian Su is president of Artisan Business Group Inc., which has offices in Springfield and Hong Kong.
By Ted Schurter | SJ-R
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Making an investment in the future
By Julie Cellini

Two decades ago, Bin Su was a 27-year-old marked man in his native China because of his presence at pro-democracy uprisings in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Today, he's Brian Su, a United States citizen, state employee and part-time entrepreneur who lives in Chatham and fills his evenings, weekends and days off working in cities around the U.S. facilitating foreign investments, usually with Chinese clients. 

If there is irony in Su's entry into the rapidly expanding federal EB-5 program, which links U.S. developers with Chinese investors in exchange for a path to U.S. residency, Su doesn't see it.

"It's a different time in China from when I was there," he says. "Now it's all about doing business. No one cares that I defected from China 20 years ago. They care that I have language and business skills to work with them." 

Inspired by Abe
Su's odyssey - from being an English-speaking Chinese government interpreter to a U.S. asylum seeker on a business trip in California - was chronicled in The State Journal-Register six years ago. That was when he brought his bride, Louisa, from China for their wedding in Springfield. Now the couple has two daughters, Claire, 5, and Anna, 3 - something Su says would not be possible in his homeland because of China's strict one-child policy. 

Su was practically penniless when he came to Springfield 17 years ago. He says he read about Abraham Lincoln and thought his hometown might be a good place for a refugee to establish himself. Su had no job and no contacts of any kind. Part of the heartland's allure was that then-Sangamon State University offered internships, and it was his dream to earn a master's degree.

He took whatever work he could find in Springfield, from waiting tables to teaching Chinese cooking. He taught himself to use a computer and drive a car. Su applied for and won a state-sponsored fellowship that paid him enough to live on. That was his entree into employment in state government, where he worked full time while attending grad school. For more than a decade, he has been a support services manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"I don't know anyone who has embraced being an American more than Brian," says friend Adil Rahman, a pharmaceutical representative who met him when both worked for the state. "I call him 'the Americans' American.' From his learning to hunt - definitely not something Asians do - to his fascination with cowboy culture, he dives head-first into all this country has to offer." 

Rahman, who is the son of immigrants from India, says his and Su's Asian backgrounds allow them to kid each other about stereotypes. 

"I used to tell him it was hard to believe he came from a Communist country because he's a complete capitalist," Rahman says. "He does so many different things, all focused on making money in the free market."  

Investment Made in USA
Su first heard about the federal EB-5 program in a chance conversation with a state government colleague in South Dakota. He says he was intrigued and started researching the program, even though he already was busy developing websites for businesses in his spare time. 

A self-professed workaholic, Su was sure he had the contacts and the skills to entice investors. Five years ago, he assembled an online team of 10 friends - most from his high school and college days in China. Their fledgling company, Artisan Business Group Inc., set up small offices in Springfield and Hong Kong and started sponsoring seminars and educational programs in the U.S. and China to market their program. 

The EB-5 was created by Congress in 1990 and has, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services data, already generated nearly $4.5 billion in foreign investment for U.S. construction and development projects in designated high-unemployment cities and rural communities all over the country. In Illinois, there currently are 14 counties that meet federal guidelines for EB-5 projects. None are in central Illinois. 

"Our group markets EB-5," Su says, "as the quickest way to get a visa if someone doesn't have a sponsor like an employer or family member in the U.S. China is an especially good market because it has a lot of people with cash who want to establish U.S. residency, so their kids can come here for education. We work with them to find places in the U.S. where investment is most needed. (The) Chinese have a great affinity for land, and that translates into real estate. Money is overflowing in much of China today, so they seek to diversify. The weak U.S. dollar also makes investing in the United States attractive.

"Most of our group's customers in the U.S. are in commercial real estate that needs cash. We work with hotels, resorts, power plants, meat processors, dairy farms - even a gold mine in Idaho and a battery-powered lawn mower manufacturer in Vermont."

Su describes himself as a "market-entry specialist," who helps facilitate the process both outside and inside the U.S. 

Chinese interest 
It's fertile ground. The latest EB-5 visa statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service for the first half of this year show 2,198 visas issued to foreign investors in EB-5 projects - with more than half going to Chinese nationals. Artisan Business Group's roster of about 30 clients is concentrated in China, but his team also works with clients in India, Korea, Pakistan and Germany. 

The process begins when his team identifies investors, usually in mainland China and Taiwan. Each must have a business plan showing how their cash will create jobs in the U.S. Investors are required to put up at least $500,000 for development in high unemployment and rural areas or $1 million in less distressed areas. If the plan is approved, and the funds invested, applicants and their dependents can be granted temporary U.S. residency. Investors have two years to demonstrate they have created at least 10 new jobs. Next comes the possibility of becoming permanent residents with green card status. 

"It isn't a ticket for wealthy people to get a green card," Su says. "...(T)here are no guarantees. Every EB-5 project must demonstrate it meets strict federal guidelines. I am a big proponent of investing in the USA, and working with this program creates jobs and jumpstarts parts of our economy."  

Su's workload doesn't leave him much time for his passion, which is country and western music. He likes nothing better than to don cowboy boots and hit the open road with his family. He's visited at least half the states in the union so far - often with his parents, who come from China to visit their granddaughters.

"I'm an American who looks Chinese," he says. "I don't feel like I come from any one place. But Chatham is home."

 


 

About Brian Su
Age: 47

Education: Bachelor's degree in English literature and language, Guizho University, Guizho, China; Master's degree in Public administration, University of Illinois Springfield.

Family: wife, Louisa; daughters, Claire, 5; and Anna, 3

Hometown: Chatham 

Who inspires him: "Silicon Valley! All those guys who started Yahoo, Google, Dell Computer. They were successful because they never gave up. I work hard at everything I do, and, like them, I never give up!"

 


 

Want to know more?
To learn more about the EB-5 immigrant investor program or its regional centers located in 14 states, visit www.uscis.gov/eb-5centers, or call the U.S. Citizenship Information Service at (800) 375-5283.

 

Story published Friday, September 2, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 5 )

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