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Motion Picture Competitiveness Program a smash hit

When companies look at potential filming locations, they always ask: “How much will it cost?”

Washington lawmakers know that the bottom line is an important factor with filmmakers, which is why we created the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program to bring jobs and boost local economies. Unfortunately for workers and small businesses, this successful program may be on the way out.

Since its inception in 2007, Washington’s Motion Picture Competitiveness Program has created more than 14,500 jobs and generated more than $109 million in spending statewide. It offers a partial tax credit on expenses paid to in-state workers and companies, which draws out-of-state productions to the area and creates jobs in nearly every sector of the economy.

We see those economic benefits right here in Spokane. The film incentive has supported 25 projects in the greater Spokane area, resulting in $46.5 million in spending. The local Syfy series “Z Nation” writes more than 150 checks to local businesses each week. The incentive’s support has helped create 5,500 good-paying jobs in our community, with wages averaging $34 per hour after benefits are factored in.

Jason McKee is one of many local entrepreneurs to credit the program for much of his success. His small visual effects company MODEfx employs 10 people throughout the year. Across the industry, the opportunity to work on film productions keeps local artistic talent in our community doing everything from special effects to set design, fostering a thriving arts scene while promoting economic development.

More than the film industry benefits from these investments. The scope of work required to make a quality production touches on nearly every sector of the economy. From security services to cleanup crews, site rentals, hotel stays and equipment fees, these resources bolster economic activity throughout the region.

Local business owner Jake Fischer said, “The film industry keeps my truck rental and repair company busy renting out trailers, transporting crews, and selling old machinery for productions. Film-related business accounted for a quarter of my company’s revenue last year.”

Stella’s Café in Spokane also has thrived as a result of the film incentive – whenever a movie is shot, producers, writers and actors pour into the restaurant for lunch. Owners Steve and Marti Brown said the support for their business has allowed them to open a second establishment, creating more jobs and investments in the community

The industry could be on the cusp of an expansion. Local company North by Northwest hopes to invest in a $2.5 million sound-stage complex that would support the growth of the film industry in the greater Spokane area, making it easier to film year-round. Projects like this would only be possible with the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program.

But these economic benefits could end, as the program is set to expire in 2017. And even if it is renewed at current funding levels, Washington still will lag behind the region.

While we invest $3.5 million per year in the incentive, Oregon caps its funding at $10 million. It may sound like a lot, but last year our money ran out in March, and in 2014 the funds were exhausted in April, leaving nothing to attract film crews during the vibrant summer and autumn months that set our region apart. Statewide, this meant a loss of $65 million in economic activity in 2015 as production crews decided to take their business elsewhere.

That’s why we are championing a bipartisan effort to keep film in Washington. We have different proposals but the bottom line is that we are strongly committed to renewing the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program. These dollars get cycled into the community again and again, not only supporting local businesses but also returning public dollars to the state. Our local leaders in the city of Spokane and Greater Spokane Incorporated are strongly supporting this and know it makes sense for our community.

With a 10-to-1 return on investment, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity. Passing legislation will renew and extend this vital program to promote vibrant communities and continue to create jobs throughout the region. The stage is set and the lights are on us. We must prevent good-paying jobs and economic benefits from riding off into the sunset … heading toward other states.

Marcus Riccelli represents the 3rd Legislative District. Michael Baumgartner is the senator from the 6th Legislative District.