Charlie Harper: Georgia Workers Thriving in Film Industry
Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
Photo Credit to Jon Richards of GeorgiaPol.com
The flag draped coffin sitting in the Georgia Capitol’s rotunda indicated that it wasn’t business as usual last week. Yet it was not an overly somber occasion. Instead, it was the increasingly common break from politics as the interior of the gold dome was being used for yet another movie. This one, a feature film about former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Last week it was revealed that Georgia has moved to third position in the number of full length movies produced worldwide. FilmL.A. noted that of 119 feature films produced world wide in 2015, 12 were produced in Georgia. Only California (19) and the United Kingdom (15) produced more. Louisiana produced the same number as Georgia, with both states producing one more than Canada.
Georgia’s growth is not occurring in a vacuum. By comparison, New York saw its number of feature films drop from 13 to 7 according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. According to the same article, California was not responsible for any of the top 25 live action movies at the box office. Meanwhile, Fayetteville’s Pinewood Studios is cranking out big budget live action films one after another.
Georgia has one of the most lucrative tax incentives for local film and TV production in the nation. As such, producers are voting with their feet and moving projects to the peach state. The existing local studios are operating at or near maximum capacity, with additional studio campuses actively under construction to meet demand.
The emergence of the film industry is no longer a secret, and as the industry succeeds the tax credit continues to grow larger as an annual expense. Critics have started to question the investment – often citing that Georgians are paying to temporarily relocate those from out of state for short term projects. These critics are not only wrong, but are missing the point of the targeted tax credit.
According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, 85% of the jobs on projects eligible for tax credits go to Georgians. Add in the local spending for food, materials, and other local businesses used for production, and the in-state spending component remains extremely high. Georgia’s workers and small businesses benefit directly from the spending for each project.
Workers in the industry earn significantly more than minimum wage. In fact, the annual wages for a crew member averages $84,000 according to SavannahNow.com. Even better, Georgia is expected to have the need for 3,000 to 5,000 additional skilled workers in the industry over the next three years. As such, the tax credit is not only facilitating Georgians earning quality paychecks, but is creating the need for more Georgians to earn these wages.
In response to the demand, the need is being met by cooperation between the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Technical College System of Georgia, and the University System of Georgia. The combined efforts of these institutions has culminated in the Georgia Film Academy, with it’s own studio adjacent to Pinewood Studios but with programs offered through many of Georgia’s higher education campuses.
Students are being trained and certified as ready to work in many specialized fields needed by this emerging industry. As such, the expense of the film tax credit is actually an investment in needed, marketable, and lucrative skills needed by employers today.
The tax credits are targeted at an industry that is transient by nature, and thus can quickly move to where the best deal is. North Carolina has already experienced a significant downturn after drastic cuts to their program. Louisiana capped its lucrative program for this fiscal year – perhaps giving Georgia an extra edge as we continue to move up in both number of projects and in big budget feature films produced locally.
But as these other states continue to pull back on their investment, Georgia is doubling down. The key difference, however, is that Georgia is investing in its people to ensure that the highly marketable, highly compensated skills are left behind when the project wraps its final scene. The result is that the tax credits of today will result in Georgia being a base of well paid high skilled workers well into the future.
Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.