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With three-part plan, state set to reap benefits of film industry

Mississippi has a three-phase plan to attract the film industry and the multitude of dollars it brings to the economy. Recognizing this industry as a viable arm of economic development, the state is busy putting this plan into action.

According to Mississippi Film Office director Ward Emling, those three phases are incentives, workforce training and funding. In 2004, state lawmakers passed legislation providing incentives; including a 10% tax credit on local payroll taxes and some sales tax concessions.

Workforce training will get underway soon in Canton and will reach an even higher level with the completion of the $4-million Mississippi Film Centre expected to open in approximately a year. Emling says the funding phase, whether public or private, will follow.

“The incentives put us on the map and keeps the conversation going with producers,” he said. “We’re going to develop a trained crew and create an environment for local crews. These things will generate funding. We’re in a really good position.”

Complete package

The Film Centre — complete with sound stages, office space and mill shop where sets can be built and stored — is the state’s best bet without a doubt, Emling says. Training will be offered in all areas of film production, including sound, lighting, set design, construction, props, makeup, hair design and wardrobe.

“That’s the way to go. We can train our people and encourage them to tell our stories because there are so many avenues for presentation of product now,” he said. “These are the people whose names appear in the credits at the end of the film.”

Construction of the 33,718-square-foot Film Centre is expected to begin within a few months. It will be built on a 25-acre site in the Canton Industrial Park.

Emling stresses the importance of workforce training for the film industry. “Having a local crew that goes home to their own beds every night,” he said. “When we can offer local production and local support services, it makes it easier for the industry to come here and spend on a location.”

He isn’t concerned that Gov. Haley Barbour has expressed that the rebate incentives may be too low to compete with other states. Emling notes that Mississippi was in the second tier of states to enact incentives and since then another 20 states have entered the picture.

“There are some things we could tweak to make it more attractive,” he said. “We have been going slowly to make sure we’re all speaking the same language — and we’re learning a new language. The best thing is to make it simple and clean. However, the center in Canton and workforce training are the best incentives.”

None of the surrounding states has a facility such as the one the Magnolia State will have in Canton. With trained crews, the incentives will work better, differentiating Mississippi from the many states that have incentives.

“No one is doing that. They’re just putting the incentives out there. Local workforce training is really the key,” Emling said. “We can create jobs. That’s what it’s about whether we’re making our own documentaries, short films and commercials or companies are coming in for production.”

Creating good jobs

He says lawmakers, government officials and the public are getting on the bandwagon of workforce development and see nurturing the film industry as economic development. “People understand that we can create good jobs,” he said. “There’s been great support in all areas of government.”

While Emling says the economic impact is hard to measure, he uses the movie “A Time to Kill” as a benchmark. Based on the John Grisham book by the same name, the film was shot in Canton and was in the $20-million range. It generated 10,000 paychecks and left $5.3 million in Mississippi.

“What we’re doing is incalculable,” Emling said. “Film makers don’t get paid until they spend money here. We’ve tried to make our incentive program as clear and simple as we can and are still working through some things.”

Final plans for the Mississippi Film Centre in Canton should be put out to bid in four to six weeks, followed by six to eight months of construction. Emling says crew training won’t wait until completion but will begin utilizing other space then move into the new facility.

“There’s a lot of interest statewide and from outside the state, too,” he said, “and that’s just from people hearing about it.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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