DULUTH — Making movies and TV shows is a $70 billion industry in the U.S. — and an untapped opportunity for Duluth, the Northland, and Minnesota.
In December, St. Louis County took a serious step toward grabbing a game-changing chunk of the economy-boosting, area-promoting glitz and glamour when the County Board voted to create an incentive to woo free-spending Hollywood types and anyone else shooting and creating. The incentive is a rebate on their expenditures of up to 25% in the county and 20% on the Iron Range. That’s sizable savings, the likes of which are already bolstering TV and film endeavors elsewhere and the nudge needed when shooting locations are being chosen.
In addition, this session at the Legislature, lawmakers have a chance to add to the enticement with a transferable film tax credit from the state of up to 25% on in-Minnesota spending on movie and TV making.
But the legislation to create the film-production tax credit has reached a critical, will-it-or-won’t-it-pass juncture in St. Paul, said Riki McManus, chief production officer for the Upper Midwest Film Office in Duluth.
With Northland lawmakers and bipartisan support firmly behind them, House and Senate bills have received hearings. But only the House version was included in its chamber’s omnibus tax bill, according to Minnesota Film and TV. A conference committee is working right now to reconcile differences between the different versions of the legislation to produce a final bill for a full vote by all legislators.
A practically entire new industry that easily could mean hundreds of millions of dollars for Minnesota’s economy hinges on that conference committee’s ability to find agreement.
“The production industry brings in new money to our region and gives locals a new career pathway that allows them to live and be creative right here in Minnesota,” McManus said in a written statement. “That is happening right now in Northern Minnesota because of the St. Louis County Film Incentive. We have four episodic series that would like to shoot here, but they are just waiting to see if the (state) tax credit passes. They need it in order to bring these large projects that can potentially last years and employ … hundreds and sometimes thousands of people over the span of shooting. What a boost to the economy that would be!”
Minnesota is largely being left behind by an industry roaring back to life post-pandemic. Sure, there’ve been some big Hollywood productions shot here, including “Iron Will” in and around Duluth; “North Country” and “I Am Not a Serial Killer” on the Iron Range; “Fargo” in and around the Twin Cities; and “Grumpy Old Men” in Minneapolis, Chanhassen, and Lake City.
Also, between 2014 and 2018, at least 11 small feature films and two TV series filmed in the Duluth and North Shore areas, representing more than $4 million in spending on local wages and at local businesses, according to Minnesota Film and TV.
But at least 30 other states already have a film incentive and are grabbing away countless projects.
“An incentive program like a film credit is the only way to build a thriving industry in Minnesota because so many other states and countries have implemented film credits,” Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm, an author of the Senate bill, said during a Senate tax committee meeting in April. “Due to their success, it’s now a necessary condition for attracting large projects.”
Catalyst Story Institute moved to Duluth in 2018 specifically because it looked like the state was going to start offering the film incentive, that same story reported. The institute’s CEO said a colleague at HBO told him that if Minnesota had film incentives, the state would have been chosen for $100 million of productions in 2019 alone.
Those millions in economic impact for the state are an opportunity not to be ignored. Tapping in — potentially making stars of Minnesotans and the state alike — may be as easy as creating an easy incentive that’s already proving successful elsewhere. Lawmakers, before their session wraps in St. Paul in a couple of weeks, need to work out their differences here, too, and get this done.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.