Investing in the future

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, Eddy Zai got the idea to bring his two worlds together. Zai, who was born in Europe to Iranian and Indian parents, is now raising a family of his own in Cleveland. Zai logs thousands of miles each year traveling around the globe as a serial entrepreneur of sorts. In 2009, he flew almost 100,000 miles promoting his latest project.

Inspired by Northeast Ohio’s potential, Zai established a program to draw the international investing community to the city. The Cleveland International Fund is a federally backed program that offers EB-5 green cards to foreign investors. The participant needs to invest $500,000 in a Cleveland economic development project in return for a conditional two-year visa. If the investment creates 10 new jobs in the area, the investor and the investor’s immediate family are eligible for permanent citizenship in the United States.

As a private company, Zai, the founder and CEO, and his board members pay close attention to the details that the federal government can’t necessarily cover. For example, the fund mandates a 2 percent fine on any borrower who does not at least meet Cleveland’s minority and female business requirements. There are 94 EB-5 programs in the United States, including the Cleveland program. These programs drew $480 million in foreign investments in 2009 alone. The Cleveland program recently secured $20 million for projects. Many projects — like the Flats East Bank revitalization project, where a large percentage of the $20 million is going — could not continue without the money secured by the Cleveland International Fund. Health care and biological technology sites in downtown Cleveland, extending east down Euclid Avenue and suburban areas on the east and west sides, are the newest targeted investment zones. The program will also focus on real estate development projects and the local film industry. Zai plans to bring between $25 million and $50 million annually for the Cleveland area. The fund also intends to create 1,000 local jobs each year.

Zai and his board members have garnered the support of leaders, such as Gov. Ted Strickland and Frank Jackson, mayor of Cleveland. The project supports the local economy and strengthens the relationship between regional businesses and the international market. The additional benefits to Northeast Ohio could extend well past the initial investments.

How to reach: Cleveland International Fund, (216) 245-0606 or