Minnesota had a very strong and thriving film industry in the 1990s, but the Jan. 18 editorial on the Minnesota Film & TV Board did not take into account why the state became such a significant production market (“Film rebates merit a close-up review”).
Minnesota’s success was due to a combination of a significant labor force not found elsewhere — including acting talent for secondary roles and strong crew and technical support. Almost no state other than California, New York and Illinois could provide this. In addition, Minnesota locations are unique (think snow and ice) and accessible. The ability to work with local governments made the state a much easier place to shoot.
The editorial cited a study that was critical because the productions provided low-paying jobs within the state and most positions were filled by out-of-state personnel. However, there were approximately 5,000 full-time jobs created for Minnesotans in the 1990s, and significant economic spinoff for restaurants, hotels and suppliers. The editorial also noted that many other states had cut back significantly on similar subsidies, but it failed to note that the states were doing so because of the recession. And the studies cited ignored the economic spinoff created through the production work.
The studies tended to focus on the use of tax credits and the ability of the production companies to use accounting gimmicks to obtain them. That ignores the Snowbate model, which is a more exacting rebate program than open-ended tax credits.
Minnesota has not had the opportunity to see if a reasonable rebate program will work; the money for the program at its current level was only available on Aug. 1, and this has clearly not been enough time to determine whether or not it is successful.
I believe that this type of economic development for a very limited amount of dollars will produce a much higher rate of return than many other development efforts (such as professional sports stadiums). Why don’t we give the Minnesota Film & TV Board the opportunity to show what it can do for the state over the next two years rather than a mere four or five months?
Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.