Michigan tax credit courts film industry to lure money, jobs

Two studio facilities are expected to open within the next year. The $86 million Detroit Center Studios in downtown Detroit will create 700 jobs and will house rooms for editing and screening, soundstages, offices and a commissary. The $70 million Motown Motion Picture Studio, in a former General Motors plant in Pontiac, is projected to create 5,130 jobs doing a range of back office, creative, carpentry, lighting and other entertainment work.

In addition to building infrastructure, the state needs to be able to prove to the industry that it can provide crews for up to about seven simultaneously filming major projects, Burnstein says. That will give the state enough critical mass to convince the industry that Michigan is a reliable place to do business.

"Once the industry knows they've got the facilities and the crew base here, then we'll be able to attract more," he says.

But to be a sustainable employment option for workers, the state needs to attract more than a few movies, which come in for a several months, then leave. Burnstein says the new studios will help Michigan attract more TV series, such as HBO's Hung, which is already shot in and around Detroit. TV series "are pretty much year-round," he says. "Once they're here, they're not going anywhere."

Gamers also get tax break

Another part of the entertainment industry that qualifies for the same tax incentive is video-game software development. It's an attractive target, Burnstein says, as it's a year-round business that employs lots of highly skilled people to pull together the games. Burnstein says video-game developers are just beginning to see Michigan as an alternative to California, where the cost of living is much higher.

The entertainment business won't ever replace all the stable, middle-class jobs in Michigan that came with the auto industry, says Janet Lockwood, director of the Michigan Film Office. In 2007, before the recession hit, the auto industry pulled in $18 billion in revenue; the movie industry overall generated $9.6 billion that year. The goal now, she says, is for the state to diversify its economy, not rely on one industry to keep it afloat.

The movie industry is one worth nurturing in Michigan, she says.

"It would be a lovely ancillary industry, because it's high-tech, and will keep a lot of our youngsters home," Lockwood says. "But it will never fill the shoes of the auto industry. I don't know if anything will."

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