By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer
The American Scholar Group, which set out in 2010 to provide Asian students with a centralized place to live, study and learn American culture, is branching out into other local business ventures.
Over the past year, the group has created 36 jobs for drivers, housemasters, cooks, teachers and administrative staff as a result of buying buildings and houses in the Greenville area to lodge Asian students from several countries whose families are supporting them as they attend high schools in the area.
David Ho, founder of ASG and a 1986 graduate of Thiel College, said the revenue and economic growth ASG is bringing to Greenville through its education and other ventures could be substantial.
“Greenville needs our help,” Ho said. “They need somebody to give back to the community and we came to give.”
ASG on Monday closed on the purchase of the building that houses the Greenville Record-Argus. The newspaper will move its offices to another location in town.
Ho plans to open a community activity center in the 19,000 square-foot building at 10 Penn Avenue for both ASG students and their American friends. It will include space for tutoring services and for students to play games.
Ho said the presence of the group has caused ripples of doubt among some local residents who may not be familiar with people from other countries.
“A lot of people in Greenville don’t know what the company is doing,” Leslie Hite, vice president of ASG, said. “They are making uneducated guesses.”
Hite thinks the skepticism started when a restaurant going in the former N.N. Moss Co. building failed to open last year in the former furniture store, as they predicted it would.
Jimmy Ho, David’s brother, bought the building at 160 Main St., to house the restaurant, Straits Settlement. Jimmy’s wife, Christina Lim, will be at the helm of the restaurant which is slated to open in mid-June. It will serve mostly Asian food with some British Colonial, Indian and Persian dishes.
Hite said Lim’s investment visa was held up for five months, which stopped renovation of the building.
In assisting students, his family and prospective new business owners with their visa problems, David Ho said he recognized a need for someone to guide people from Asia interested in coming to America.
The immigration branch of his business will be located in the former Bessemer building, next to the Straits Settlement. The corporate headquarters of ASG will be stationed there as well.
Ho said Asian entrepreneurs who may locate in the area must invest at least $1 million and hire 10 or more employees.
“We are planning so many things,” he said, adding that he has many business contacts overseas whose owners see opportunity in this region of the United States.
“Owning land (in this area) is incredible,” Ho said, “In Asia there is no space and land is so cheap here with so much space.”
ASG has also scooped up land behind UPMC Horizon Greenville at 15 and 24 Leech Road. Ho said he plans to use those parcels for a dormitory housing up to 60 students, with a dining hall, bowling alley and cinema.
The foreign student program is also one of the endeavors the group oversees. At present, 42 students reside in the former “Farm” in Adamsville, three houses in Greenville and other private residences in the area.
Kennedy Catholic High School in Hermitage was the first school to welcome ASG students in 2011. Since then, other private schools in Mercer and Mahoning counties have signed on with the group.
Sharpsville High School is jumping on board for the 2013-14 school year.
On Monday, the board unanimously approved an agreement with the group and is expecting 20 students from Asia next year.
“This is a wonderful opportunity,” Mark Ferrara, Sharpsville school district superintendent, said. “This will be very lucrative (for the school) and students.”
The district will have an extra $200,000 in tuition revenue for budget which Ferrara said will be used to “fund a new media center or to offset other expenses.”