Diana Sole Walko: Axing the film office is reverse economics (Daily Mail)

Diana Sole Walko

I love West Virginia, but I have to tell you, it gets exhausting at times.

Especially now, when the Legislature is in town, a new governor is in office and there’s a deficit bigger than Spruce Knob. Meanwhile, the governor’s office and the Legislature play what seems like blind man’s bluff with the budget.

West Virginia is underwater to the tune of $400-500 million. We’re spending more than we’re taking in. It’s past time to sit down at the kitchen table and take a long, hard look at where we need to cut back.

But why would anyone suggest that we ax a state office and a tax credit that bring revenue and much needed jobs to our state?

Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of the West Virginia Film Office and the film investment tax credit. Whoever did the math on that is certainly no John Nash or Katherine Johnson.

Over the course of the last eight years, the Film Office, armed with the incentive, has been an economic driver in our state, attracting more than $54 million of direct expenditures using tax incentives totaling approximately $16 million.

That’s a 30 percent return, before you even begin to calculate the indirect value.

Other states understand the economic value of attracting the production business. We fill hotel rooms, sometimes for weeks on end, we order catering for our crew, we buy necessities at the local drugstore, we rent gear, we rent tables, we pay scouting fees and location fees and, most importantly, we hire the local workforce.

That’s why nearly every state, and even some cities, have film offices tasked with recruiting the film industry. The programs vary, but intent is the same: to be competitive. In this, West Virginia is more D-III than D-I.

Here are a few comparisons: Georgia, Illinois and Kentucky have no cap on their film tax credit programs. Pennsylvania has a $60 million cap; Oklahoma a $50 million cap and Ohio has $40 million cap.

Where are we ranked? In a familiar spot: near the bottom. Our cap is set at $5 million annually.

Go to any Chamber of Commerce meeting in this state and you’ll hear the familiar refrain: We need to diversify our economy, we need technology jobs, we need to attract more visitors to our state. Check. Check. And check. The film industry does all three. It’s also a growth industry.

The proliferation of new television networks and platforms such as Amazon and Netflix has opened a huge demand for new, original content.

Netflix alone plans to spend $6 billion on content this year. How much of that can West Virginia attract if there’s no film office and no tax credit? Zero. And yes, Netflix has done work in West Virginia. And so has Paramount, Disney, Discovery, the History Channel, AMC, FidoTV Channel and more. There are also several home-grown businesses, like mine, that create content.

The economic impact of shooting a movie or a mini-series is significant. Economists measured the impact of the “We are Marshall” movie at $4.6 million. “Super 8” was a $14.8 million shot in the arm to the Northern Panhandle. The Eastern Panhandle has been the backdrop to several miniseries, such as “The American West,” “The Making of the Mob,” NatGeo’s “American Genius” and CMT’s “NASCAR: the Rise of Speed.”

When the West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act passed by unanimous vote in both houses of our Legislature during the 2008 session, the cap was set at $10 million.

Unfortunately, in fiscal year 2014, the cap was lowered to $5 million, for inexplicable reasons since the cap had never been reached. The result: big budget productions no longer look at our state because our cap is set too low. And now we want to lose what business we have left?

Decisions about what production company to hire, where to shoot or where to park your edit bay are based on whether the math works or doesn’t.

When I interviewed Katherine Johnson for a documentary I’m producing about her life, the state native and NASA mathematician said she loved math because there’s one right answer.

There’s one here too.

Diana Sole Walko is the president and owner of MotionMasters, a video production firm celebrating its 30th year in business. Reach her at motionmasters.com.

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