Former Gov. Nathan Deal: I’ve seen the good that film tax credit’s done here

The incentive helped Georgia weather a recession and build an industry.
You oughta be in pictures. The film-making industry has some of the fastest-growing jobs in Georgia.

You oughta be in pictures. The film-making industry has some of the fastest-growing jobs in Georgia.

When I took the oath of office as governor in January 2011, the state treasury only had enough money to cover three days of state expenses. In the depths of the Great Recession, the state – like so many Georgia families at the time – was living day to day, trying to bring in enough money to get to tomorrow. I admit the state’s then-new film tax credit was not remotely on my mind.

In 2008 – right before the start of the economic collapse – legislators updated the film tax credit to create one of the strongest incentives for the industry in the world. Hollywood bean counters took note and soon were flying in crews from California and elsewhere to film here.

The Great Recession hit Georgia particularly hard because two of our biggest industries, banking and real estate, suffered the worst damage. In those dark days of foreclosures, deserted construction sites and double-digit unemployment, the film industry injected fast cash into our economy, throwing a lifeline to some small businesses.

Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday signed into law more than 50 pieces of legislation. Still in limbo — awaiting either his signature or a veto — are bills that would expand the illnesses and conditions covered by the state’s medical marijuana program and tax breaks for investment in rural businesses. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

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That impact on small businesses continues today. More than 15,000 Georgia businesses support our state’s film industry. The film tax credit fuels opportunities for tens of thousands of hardworking Georgians across the state, creating jobs that range from electricians and construction workers to caterers and truck drivers. Families and small businesses throughout the state count on the opportunities created by the tax credit.

Studio infrastructure investment is on the rise, also bringing jobs and economic development to communities throughout Georgia. When I became governor, the state had only 47,000 square feet of studio soundstage space. By 2027, we’re projected to have 7 million square feet, so much that Hollywood executives marvel at the options they find here. Building all that infrastructure created thousands of high-paying jobs and boosted local property tax revenues.

Early in my first term, I visited London to woo Pinewood Studios, which soon built a world-class facility where many Marvel films were produced. In 2019, Georgia investors bought out the property and rebranded it as Trilith. It’s created a magnet for Fayette County to attract other development.

In those years, film companies would fly in crews from elsewhere because Georgia didn’t have the skilled workforce it needed, so I worked with legislators and educators to create the Georgia Film Academy, which now has thousands of graduates working in the state. The popularity of the subject led university system and technical college campuses across Georgia to offer film-related classes. Today, Georgia has a highly experienced crew that is the envy of many other states and countries. The average on-set production job in Georgia pays $86,000 a year, and a recent production here employed cast and crew from nearly 40 counties.

The film tax credit has worked as its creators intended, with film industry spending growing to $4.4 billion in the most recent year recorded. When I’d travel to Los Angeles to pitch Georgia to studios, I let them know the film tax credit had strong support at the Capitol – words that gave studios the confidence to plan long-term for projects in Georgia. Likewise, Gov. Brian Kemp’s stewardship of the program has led to a filming boom during his time in office.

As legislators debate the future of the film tax credit, they absolutely must do their due diligence and ensure that taxpayers are getting a good deal. At the same time, we must protect what we’ve built and the investments Georgians have made. Across the state, Georgia small businesses that offer carpeting, catering, dry cleaning, makeup and transportation services now depend on the revenues that come from film production.

As governor, I saw other states abandon their film programs and, as a result, their projects and their people moved to Georgia. If we lose the incentive, it’s Georgians who’ve built their careers and their businesses around the industry who’ll get hurt, not the film companies, which will just rent a studio somewhere else. A recent economic study found that without the incentive, 92 percent of film projects would not have come to Georgia. It also showed that for every $1 in film tax credits, $6.30 flows into our economy.

We remain the No. 1 place in the nation to do business because pro-jobs leaders have created a welcoming regulatory climate that provides businesses with stability and predictability – the keys to garnering development dollars. We’ve built an incredible foundation for the film industry that’s the envy of other states anxious to enjoy our success. With the wise leadership at the helm of Georgia today, the best is yet to come.

Deal served as governor of Georgia from 2011 to 2019.