Ohio movie tax credit in jeopardy

Advocates rally for Ohio’s movie tax credit

FilmDayton and other advocates are urging lawmakers to preserve a state tax credit for film-making in Ohio, an industry that employs the equivalent of 5,000 full-time workers, film supporters say.

The Ohio House of Representatives’ version of a proposed state budget presented last week eliminates the credit, which has drawn movie productions to Dayton, Cleveland, Hamilton and other Ohio cities. The incentive provides a credit of 30 percent on eligible in-state spending.

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Lisa Grigsby, executive director of FilmDayton, said the credit needs to be protected.

“We spent 10 years building the film industry in the state of Ohio, and we’re just starting to see returns from it,” Grigsby said Tuesday.

Movie-making may seem sexy or glamorous, but at the end of the day, creating films is simply “straight up manufacturing,” said Ivan Schwarz, president and chief executive of Cleveland Film.

“If you spend any time on a movie set, you will see people spending more time sweating than wearing tuxedos,” Schwarz said.

Liberty Tower in downtown Dayton won new exposure — and new business leases — based on its star turn in the 2018 Robert Redford film, “The Old Man and the Gun,” Grigsby said. The movie also featured a scene on the roof of the Talbott Tower, giving an expansive view of downtown Dayton.

Grigsby recalled watching that film in a full house at the Neon. When downtown Dayton appeared on the screen, the audience erupted.

“The number of people clapping when they saw Dayton on the big screen,” she said. “That’s just pride in their city.”

“American Factory,” a locally made documentary on Moraine’s Fuyao Glass America, was able to take advantage of the credit, said Steve Bognar, the Yellow Springs filmmaker who with Julia Reichert and a team of colleagues directed and produced the film.

“Think about what that does for our region, to get national attention from filmmakers,” Grigsby said.

She recalled receiving an email from a Dayton dry cleaner that won business from the crew behind “The Old Man and the Gun.” She said that business made the owner’s “year.”

Most of the filming of the upcoming Netflix film “Hillbilly Elegy” will take place in Georgia, not Ohio, because Ohio film tax credits are already allocated for the fiscal year, and new credits are not available until the state’s next fiscal year, starting July 1, according to reports.

Director Ron Howard has scouted out locations for the movie in Middletown, and some of the work will be shot there, but not the bulk, Grigsby said. The movie is based on J.D. Vance’s memoir of growing up in Middletown.

Howard was photographed twice last year at the Triple Moon Coffee Co. in downtown Middletown. Recently, the Middletown Visitors Bureau sent the Academy Award-winning director a video touting Middletown as the best location for the movie.

The tax credit does have its opponents.

Some 19 states have motion picture credits, but 10 of them have ended the incentives since 2009, Wendy Patton, senior project director at Policy Matters Ohio, a labor-focused think tank, testified before the Ohio House last year.

Citing a Cleveland State University study, Patton testified that between 2011 and 2015, the state spent $32 million on the tax credits, yet total taxes generated by the economic activity amounted to just $22 million.

“Ohio’s Motion Picture Tax Credit fell far short of paying for itself in terms of tax dollars returning to the state,” she said.

Greg Lawson, a research fellow at the markets-focused Buckeye Institute, said the credit may create a short-term bump in tax revenues, but it doesn’t set the stage for sustainable prosperity.

The best way to create such prosperity is to lower tax rates on all Ohioans, Lawson said.

“Other states have seen that the return on this investment is not nearly as much as projected,” he said, citing Michigan in particular, which ended its movie-production credit in 2015.

“If the philanthropic community wants to give grants or things like that to try to incentivize folks to come here, we certainly wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Lawson said.

“Across the board, there are better ways to spend that money,” he added.

However, citing the same Cleveland State study, Cleveland’s Schwarz said the tax credit has created more than 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the state since 2009. The credit is about jobs and economic development — about $600 million of economic impact, benefiting more than 800 vendors who have served movie projects, he said.

“I’m tired of sending jobs away and out of our state,” Schwarz said.

Movies are made in Ohio everywhere from Mingo Junction to Toledo, not just in the three “Big C” cities, he said.

“The success of the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit is real and demonstrable,” FilmDayton said in a new statement on the issue. “The Motion Picture Association of America recently reported that nearly 35,500 people are directly and indirectly (hotels, caterers, carpenters, dry cleaners, etc.) employed by the motion picture and television industries in Ohio, with total wages earned exceeding $1.2 billion.”

Visit FilmDayton’s Facebook page to see a post and more information on the issue.

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