Commentary by Randy Davidson
We often share articles about other states creating, funding or extending a film tax incentive/credit. In most cases these moves are shallow and temporary with no lasting political or structural sustainability. Examples are plentiful like this story about Missouri’s proposed film incentive offering. Mostly these investment incentives are capped, short-term, and generally offer little in the way of educational and workforce development initiatives.
However, Texas is making a move. Already successful on the music front, Texas policymakers are now making a bold bid to compete with Georgia and other states for film production. A bill proposed this year in the Texas legislature would add to the state’s existing program with a new, uncapped program targeted at big-budget projects of at least $15 million. “Eligible productions would get a 30 percent base transferable tax credit that could reach as high as 42.5 percent, depending on the type of project and if it shoots in economically distressed areas.” (THR) Investors are pouring millions into studios in the Lone Star State including recent announcements of Super Studios, a new 72-acre film studio near Dallas and Hill Country Studio, a $267 million, 820,000-square-foot film and television production center that will be near Austin.
What’s going on here? Don’t Texan politicians and economic development leaders know there’s no ROI from states investing in incentivized spending on film productions? Don’t they know the direct beneficiaries of film credits generally are not Texas-based companies? Why aren’t the smart folks in Texas listening to naysayers? Has the world gone crazy???
I spoke with two executives working with studio projects in Texas. Both say the Texas film credit, as proposed, may or may not pass, but it’s not going anywhere. Said one, “It will be back, and back again.” Why? Because Texas must diversify its economy away from agriculture and energy. Smart, savvy, state leaders know a creative economy is vital to keeping Texans in Texas with highly desirable jobs in the digital entertainment realm. Besides the availability of workforce housing and other traits of successful states landing big industry, investing in culture, arts and entertainment is essential to recruit international hi-tech, life sciences and fintech companies to Texas.
So no, it’s not inconceivable for other states to copy what Georgia has done. These are not people with stars in their eyes, looking to bring Hollywood vanity and movies to their towns. No, this is serious business, a zero-sum situation (see commentary from 4/26/23) and Georgia is winning at the moment – ranked #1. The quickest way for Texas to rise in the creative economy rankings is to buy (invest) the spending we buy (invest). Thanks to the vision of our past and current elected leaders, we have a nice lead, especially in educational and workforce programs supporting entertainment.
In Georgia, a successful program always needs adjustments as the targeted industry grows. We have more work to do in other areas of digital entertainment like music, gaming and post-production. Those segments along with initiatives to spread the economic impact of film and digital entertainment throughout Georgia need more attention. But, for today and in the context of the ongoing film tax investment review by the legislature, targeted incentivized spending on film productions has Georgia sitting atop all other states in terms of creative economies.
Two days after publishing the above commentary, this video was released. While the video tugs on emotional heartstrings of Texans – like how can we lose out to Oklahoma, Georgia and others? Those sentiments are only window dressing to rally popular support for current legislation. What’s really happening is a laser targeted focus to jumpstart a creative economy in Texas. Thankfully, Georgia is there already and will hopefully continue to expand our lead.