Tax incentives fuel filmmakers’ interest

By Lee Thomas
Guest Columnist for AJC

Last week, the Georgia Department of Economic Development released the state film office’s fiscal year 2012 economic impact numbers for the film industry — $3.1 billion. The state is currently hosting 32 film and television shows, from home improvement shows to scripted dramas and major feature films.

In February 2007, we had one project filming here: the MTV reality show, “Yo Momma.” The economic impact for that fiscal year was $244 million. How did the state’s film and television industry grow over 1,100 percent in five years? First, by having a proactive legislature and governor who supported the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, a tax credit incentive of up to 30 percent for projects.

Canada started offering incentives for entertainment projects in the late 1990s. Louisiana started the first competitive domestic incentives in 2002. We lost business to both of them. In 2005, when a biopic of Georgia’s native son, Ray Charles, was filmed in Louisiana, legislators decided enough was enough.

Today, a market must offer incentives. Studios’ accounting departments dictate which states can be considered for projects. The tax incentive savings are typically rolled back into the budget, raising the spending level. The influx of cash into the economy is widespread. Georgia’s real estate market has been buoyed by shows that rent warehouses, offices, homes and apartments. The film business supports hotels, restaurants, rental car facilities and so on. More than 60 new businesses have expanded or located in Georgia since 2007, from major sound stages to production support companies.

These companies are here because the level of business warrants it. They do not get the film tax credits. The film and television industry has provided tens of thousands of jobs to Georgians, not only in technical positions, but also as caterers, production assistants, painters, hair dressers, etc.

A 2011 study indicated that for every dollar the state spends on tax credits, $1.24 is earned in state and local taxes. This does not take into account the value of having Jennifer Aniston talk about how she loves Clarkesville on “Good Morning America,” or the Georgia logo being on the credit roll of a film like “The Blind Side.” It does not represent tourists who travel to Georgia to see the Mystic Grill in Covington from “Vampire Diaries.”

Senoia, which hosts AMC’s hit “The Walking Dead,” has seen businesses downtown increase from six in 2006 to 47 by 2012, largely due to the film industry.

Georgia is uniquely situated for the film business. We have an experienced workforce and infrastructure to save the production companies money.

We have a temperate climate so productions can film year-round. We have a diverse topography of mountains, beaches, plains, small towns and urban landscapes. We have great restaurants and the ease of access provided by the world’s busiest airport. Georgia does not have the highest incentive, but it is sustainable. All of these assets help make filming in Georgia cheaper, easier and more desirable than in most markets. The film industry in Georgia means business!

Lee Thomas is director of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office.

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