Whitmer makes play for Georgia’s film industry, sans incentives

By: - April 1, 2019 3:54 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Affirmations in Ferndale, June 3, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Updated 8:25 p.m.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is hoping to attract some of Georgia’s lucrative film industry as that state’s impending anti-abortion legislation has many in Hollywood threatening to take their work — and their money — elsewhere.

That legislation, expected to be signed into law soon by Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, would outlaw abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually about six weeks after conception — and often before women know they’re pregnant.

The proposed legislation has led to a slew of criticism from voices in traditionally liberal Hollywood, which has increasingly set up shop in the Peach State. The film industry spent $2.7 billion there in 2017 alone, which the state says amounts for $9.5 billion in total economic impact.*

Celebrities like actress Alyssa Milano and filmmaker Judd Apatow have been outspoken in pledging to take their work elsewhere should it be signed into law.

Whitmer says Michigan should be on their radar if that happens.

“Hey Georgia film industry: Come on up to Michigan,” Whitmer tweeted over the weekend, noting that statewide officials like herself, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson “are committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose.”

While it’s unclear whether production companies and Hollywood talent will heed Whitmer’s call, Michigan has its own fraught history with trying to lure the notoriously transient, tax-incentive friendly film industry.

During the Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm era, a bipartisan plan passed the Legislature offering tax credits geared towards attracting film production to Michigan in 2008, during the depths of the state’s decade-long recession.

Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, however, was a noted critic of such targeted tax credit programs. In 2012, the program was switched to a rebate system before it was eliminated entirely in 2015.

Since Michigan film incentives were nixed, big-budget movies like “Transformers” have largely taken their production crews elsewhere.

Georgia, on the other hand, now offers one of the country’s more generous tax credit programs for productions that spend at least $500,000 in the state. The state’s film incentives have cemented it as one of just three states with a five-star rating from Film Production Capital, a Louisiana-based film tax credit brokerage and consulting firm.

The firm gives Michigan zero stars.

Asked Monday morning whether a new film incentive program in Michigan was on the governor’s radar, Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown wrote in an email: “The Governor was simply commenting on the Georgia bill and not proposing or endorsing any new legislation in Michigan.”

Without a tax incentive program in place, attracting movies to Michigan could prove tricky — the industry tends to go where the deals are, as the Detroit Free Press noted in a column on Sunday.

Michigan’s last film incentive go-round attracted a fair number of large productions, but didn’t lead to much in terms of increased, permanent employment, or return on investment, as the Midland-based free-market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy has noted.

Leading actors, meanwhile, are saying they’re open to any states that work to protect a woman’s right to choose.

“We want to stay in Georgia,” Milano and about 50 others wrote in an open letter over the weekend to Kemp and the Georgia House Speaker David Ralston.

“We want to continue to support the wonderful people, businesses and communities we have come to love in the Peach State,” the celebrities wrote. “But we will not do so silently and we will do everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women if H.B. 481 becomes law.”

This story has been updated to more accurately reflect how the state of Georgia measures the film industry’s economic impact.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.