By Margot C. Lester
A couple weeks ago, U.S. senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) introduced the â€œStart-up Visa Actâ€ to promote job creation in businesses owned by non-U.S. citizens. The proposal suggests a two-year visa for immigrant entrepreneurs who can attract at least $250,000 in angel or venture capital financing. If the firm adds at least five non-family employees, attracts $1 million in financing or earns $1 million in revenue, the ownerâ€™s visa becomes permanent. According to research from the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants have founded about 25 percent of the technology companies in the United States, employing tens of thousands of Americans.
The proposed bill could be a boon to people here on H-1B visas â€“ a non-immigrant visa that lasts up to six years and is awarded to highly skilled workers in â€œspecialtyâ€ fields such as technology, biotech, architecture, science and engineering. Itâ€™s a sweet deal, including vacation, sick and maternity/paternity leave. Recipients can even bring their spouses and kids in. About 65,000 of these visas are granted annually.
Unfortunately, the Kerry-Lugar proposal wonâ€™t do anything at all for immigrants who are here on other types of visas. Thatâ€™s why Kauffman Foundation economist Robert Litan is advocating for a temporary â€œjob-creatorsâ€™ visaâ€ for immigrants already legally in the U.S. Like the original bill, Litanâ€™s proposed visa would be extended when the firm hires at least one American non-family member, and would become permanent once the enterprise crosses a certain job threshold.
The bills are both nice ideas, but theyâ€™re unlikely to have an enormous impact on job creation. Unemployment is still incredibly high (14.9 million people, or 9.7 percent of the U.S. population), and it seems unlikely that even the most enterprising entrepreneurs will be able to create enough jobs to make a dent in that startling figure.
What would help, according to Chapel Hill immigration attorney AdriÃ¡n Halpern, is another approach entirely.
â€œThanks to the extra layer of lawyering required to comply with federal and state securities regulations, the Start-up Visa Act will help relatively few immigrants, and whether any of them will turn into the next Andy Grove or Sergey Brin is quite speculative,â€ Halpern notes. â€œFar more helpful to our nationâ€™s job creation would be Congressâ€™ passage of comprehensive immigration reform and a path to legal status for most of the estimated 12 million people in the U.S. illegally.â€
Comprehensive immigration reform would help the economy, Halpern suggests, because many adult immigrants who are here illegally have held off buying homes because of their highly uncertain futures. While thatâ€™s good news for rental-property landlords, it doesnâ€™t do much for the local or national economy.
â€œIf their concerns over their U.S. futures were lifted, many of the 12 million â€˜illegalsâ€™ here would likely buy homes, providing a huge boost to our nationâ€™s economy,â€ Halpern says.
â€œYes, the Start-up Visa Act will help some, but its benefits pale compared to those of comprehensive reform. Now, more than ever, comprehensive immigration reform is in our nationâ€™s economic self-interest.â€
All the economic news isnâ€™t bad. Following the wisdom that a downturn is a great time to expand (and yes, that is a prevailing thought among big-brained business people), Julie Jennings opened another Uniquities store in Durham across from Bright Leaf Square at 1000 West Main Street.
â€œBecause of the recession, we reanalyzed everything, every line, every dollar we spend,â€ Jennings explains. â€œAnd we have more negotiating power. When things are great and when people want space, youâ€™re not getting a deal. But with things the way they are, we got in for a great price and can be ready for the turnaround.â€
It wasnâ€™t just the timing that prompted the expansion, Jennings says.
â€œWeâ€™ve been looking in Durham off and on for 10 years, so when the space came up, we had to take it.â€
This is Jenningsâ€™ fourth location. In addition to the West Franklin Street and Main Street locations, she has stores in Raleighâ€™s Cameron Village and North Hills shopping centers.
Local pharma tests drug compounds
Chapel Hillâ€™s Cempra Pharmaceuticals completed Phase 1 studies for CEM-101, a next-generation macrolide that is a potential oral treatment for bacterial pneumonia. The next step is Phase 2 studies in patients with moderate to moderately severe community-acquired bacterial pneumonia, which will begin in the second quarter. The company also has filed an initial new drug application with the FDA for a Phase 1 study of the compoundâ€™s intravenous formula. New therapies for bacterial pneumonia are important because of rising drug resistance and issues of patient tolerance with current treatments. More than five million people get pneumonia each year.
Soeters named ESC chair
Bill Soeters, owner of the UPS Store at Carrboro Plaza, was elected chairman of the Carrboro Economic Sustainability Commission (ESC) last week. He replaced Peter Lee, who will remain on the commission. The eight-member ESC evaluates commercial growth, development and redevelopment against the townâ€™s sustainability goals and triple bottom-line sustainability principles. It also promotes job growth and economic opportunity and administers the Revolving Loan Fund. (Disclosure: The Citizen received a loan from that fund in 2009.) One of Soetersâ€™ first tasks will be reviewing the Local Living Economy Task Forceâ€™s recommendation to undertake a Think Local First campaign. Other task force recommendations are under consideration by the Townâ€™s Economic Development Office.
County assesses housing options
Orange County is preparing a five-year Consolidated Housing Plan for 2010-15. As a part of that process, it contracted with consultant W. Frank Newton Inc. to survey the public about housing needs and issues. Orange County residents can complete the form at surveymonkey.com/s/3KCSQSN or contact the Office of Human Rights and Relations at 245-2488 for a paper copy. Those who complete the survey will be eligible to win a $100 gift card. Survey data will help the county develop strategies, policies and programs that address the communityâ€™s fair housing needs.
You may have noticed the abrupt departure of the Carrboro Kentucky Fried Chicken store. Practically a local landmark, the business had operated at the location for about half a century before losing its lease last month. Town Economic Develop Director James Harris is working with the owners who â€œwould love to find a new location that would accommodate a dining room. It would be even better if they could have a drive-through window.