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Amended incentives, rebates along with training boost film options

With new incentives and more workforce training in place, film production may take its place as the star of economic development in Mississippi. A new state law creates a rebate program that applies to feature, television, documentary and commercial production and is effective immediately.

The program allows a 20% rebate on a production’s local spend in Mississippi to go along with the 7% sales tax exemption on most production items and a 5 1/2% sales tax exemption on most production equipment. It also creates a 25% rebate on the salaries of state residents and a 20% rebate on the salaries of non-resident cast and crew along with a minimum spend and caps on project spends.

Rep. Diane Peranich, who was instrumental in the bill’s passage, says Mississippi will now be able to market itself as a production site and set location to the industry, making Mississippi more competitive with other states.

“We’re thrilled with it. We can now incentivize and recruit A-one production staffs and stars. It has been well received,” she said. “This is not a bond issue or spending of tax money. This is a capital investment from the private sector, and they get rebates on their own money.”

Presently, Mississippi is building workforce training programs at the private and community college levels and enhancing the film program at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) with a new campus on the Gulf Coast. There is sound stage and support service development in the works in several areas of the state.

Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Film Office, says there is no limit to what the industry can do here now, and that putting a production in any corner of the state affects every segment of the economy.

“It’s economic development and immediate jobs. When a production comes in, we don’t have to wait for a building or a highway to be built,” he said. “The more we’ve trained our people, the better off we will be. They won’t have to go outside the state to work in the industry. All film jobs are high paying, not menial.”

Recognizing that the state does not have an abundance of trained film industry workers, a training program outline was begun in April that will continue to determine the positions and instructors for various locations.

“We’re fleshing it out and thinking of people to come in to teach,” Emling said. There will be weekend seminars and night classes so it’s flexible to people in Mississippi who want to get in the industry. Now we don’t have a quantity of work but we want to be ready when it comes. It’s more important for workers to get job-site experience.”

Along with amended incentives and training going on throughout the state, a film arts village is being developed on USM’s Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach. Emling says it will become a place that nurtures the next generation of Mississippi filmmakers; a place where students can learn and practice the skills needed to create entertainment that includes films, television, animation and games.

“It’s a great idea. We see an academic nexus, an academic destination for the creative film arts,” he said. “We’re expanding the program they already have at USM.”

Ann Daigle, a planner consulting with the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, sees the Gulf Park Campus as an opportunity to generate synergy between the university and the business community.

“Having an academic center for this industry is crucial to economic development,” she said. “We want to bring external sources to the campus; that’s important for economic development. The idea is to create a public/private partnership and generate a bank of home grown talent to serve with the Los Angeles and New York crews.”

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

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