BIG STONE GAP

Whoopi Goldberg was among the stars in the movie “Big Stone Gap,” written and directed by Adriana Trigiani and filmed on location in Southwest Virginia in 2013.

Ask people where they think the top 100 films of 2016 were made and most people will probably say California. However, the No. 1 filming location for that year was actually Georgia.

Moving forward, we can make Virginia the hottest spot for filming. And if we play our cards right, this would benefit businesses in the state beyond the film industry. Luckily, there’s a practical way to make this a reality.

Earlier this year, I introduced HB 2163, the 2019 New Media and Technology Innovation Act, which will create incentives for studios to film in our state. Through this program, countless Virginians will be employed in film and television projects, thus boosting local economies throughout the Old Dominion.

The bill would not alter current funding amounts that already are part of Virginia’s film tax program. Instead, a new program will be created in the state code that will specifically address tax credit opportunities for commercial series and film work, as well as gaming and other new media technology, including augmented and virtual reality.

In our own lifetime, we have seen the industry undergo a radical change by abandoning the old approach of working only for a few months on projects outside of Los Angeles or New York—instead, with the rise of streaming services and a new golden age of television, studios are setting up shop in local areas for years, not months. This greater degree of commitment leads to more media jobs being available outside of Hollywood.

Last year, Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native, voiced his support for making Virginia a more attractive place to make series and films. He’s not alone—Netflix wrote to Gov. Ralph Northam to point out that Virginia has the creative and technical talent, but the current incentive program does not make Virginia more competitive than other locales.

Thanks to the New Media and Technology Innovation Act, we can change that.

Under the program, Virginia’s Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission will have the responsibility of reviewing all requests by qualified projects seeking tax credit allocations.

The MEI Commission will determine the terms of the agreement and will make decisions regarding application qualification. Finally, the tax credits will have to be approved and appropriated by the General Assembly, just like all other Virginia tax credits.

The tax credits also will be transferable—giving other businesses in the state a chance to take advantage of the financial windfall. If a production company no longer has business in Virginia, the tax credit they were previously granted can either be bought back by the state at a discounted rate or transferred to another tax-paying Virginia business.

It’s evident this bill will expand our state’s economic potential.

Last year, 455 films were produced in Georgia, generating a total economic impact of nearly $10 billion. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film and television industry has created more than 92,100 jobs and almost $4.6 billion in wages throughout Georgia. This impressive news comes a decade after Georgia’s lawmakers decided to start courting the film industry, proving that success at the box office doesn’t have to involve Hollywood.

Today, this approach has paid off for Georgians. Tomorrow, Virginia can be a leader in this realm.

Virginia already has seen the benefits of a program like this on a smaller scale. Take the Motion Picture Tax Credit, for example. Largely thanks to this program, Virginia allocated $14.3 million in tax credits to the film industry in 2016. According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, these incentives have translated to a gross domestic product increase of roughly $51 million per year.

Every American already has seen the Los Angeles skyline and Sunset Strip more times than they can count in cinema. If passed, this bill will help bring some of Virginia’s most fantastic sights to audiences around the world. Just imagine seeing the Shenandoah Valley, the Natural Bridge and the beauty of the University of Virginia campus brought to life on the silver screen.

It’s obvious that Virginia can be a leader in the industry and collect the economic benefits that come with it. All we need to do is roll out the red carpet.

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Glenn Davis represents Virginia’s 84th district in the Virginia House of Delegates. He is a member of the Job Creators Network, a nonprofit that advocates for small business owners throughout the country.