DULUTH – St. Louis County commissioners are considering a $1 million film production incentive to help lure movies and TV series here.
The incentive would reimburse up to 25% of a production's costs after the project wraps up and expenditures are audited by the county.
"This would result in the provision of additional jobs, wages, benefits, and peripheral growth in the county and region," reads the resolution the board will consider on Tuesday.
It's the first incentive of its kind in the state coming at the county level, and it comes as the Legislature has considered but yet not passed a new statewide tax credit for the film industry to boost its current "snowbate" incentive that has lost funding in recent years.
"We have all this interest in coming here and shooting, but no one is going to come here without an incentive," said Riki McManus, director of the Upper Minnesota Film Office, which promotes the region to the film and TV industry. "I think it's a very good start. I'm really hoping it will spur the state to do something."
County officials were in talks with industry executives last year as the Catalyst Content Festival brought its indie TV event to Duluth for the first time. From those conversations, it was made clear the area is enticing, but an incentive is needed to "make it financially viable for those productions to be moved here," county documents say.
Regions that have passed robust tax incentives, such as Georgia, have seen the industry follow and set up long-term commitments. Minnesota missed out on a chance to host production on the Disney film "Clouds" due in part to a lack of incentives. It was largely shot in Canada, which has strong incentives for movie and TV work.
McManus acknowledged the pandemic has made finances tough for governments — the county would have to move money to create the program.
"On the other side, this is one of the ways we can recover quickly and get people back to work," she said. "It's a win-win."
County staff are still finalizing details of the incentive but said that "even without final action on the program, board action indicating support for the creation of the program would allow for a positive message to be provided to the industry."
McManus said there are a number of works set in the area that have been picked up for TV series — including one of author Brian Freeman's books and Vidar Sundstøl's Minnesota Trilogy. Others could follow, she said, hinting at possibilities from HBO and Netflix.
"The nice thing about a television series is it's not just a one-off," she said. "I like the long-term opportunities."
McManus' 24-year-old organization is also seeking a $150,000 grant from the county to ramp up its efforts to land local productions and become an independent nonprofit.
"This gives us a chance to be proactive," she said, "getting people to come here, spend money and put people to work."