Missouri and Kansas would earn dollars and jobs if they start film incentive programs | Opinion

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Would communities like an infusion of millions of dollars year over year? Would our states like to have stories that are set in Missouri and Kansas actually film in Missouri and Kansas — or give them over to places such as Georgia, Oklahoma and Illinois?

If you answer yes to these questions, then Missouri and Kansas must make an investment in our own entertainment industry at the state level. To do this, we need statewide film incentive programs.

Thirty-seven states with film incentive programs are doing something we are not: investing in their own industry, workforce, infrastructure and students.

As an independent film and television producer, I have worked on hundreds of films and series all over the world utilizing tax incentives, and I have witnessed firsthand the benefits to those communities. I have helped to recruit other projects to the Kansas City area, and often hosted scouts for projects set here that ended up filming in locations that have state film incentive programs. These opportunities and others like them around Missouri and Kansas add up to a cumulative loss of more than $1 billion since 2017.

Entities opposed to incentives for filmmakers cite how much a state like Georgia gives out in film incentive credits. For example, a story in The Kansas City Star mentioned that a trade publication noted Georgia gave out $1.3 billion in credits last year — but it did not note that the program generated $4.4 billion in 2021 for the state, its communities, workforce, infrastructure and students. This actually equates to $3.1 billion in new dollars.

Once we get new programs in our states up and running, they would impact our small businesses and workers. Over time, that would grow — and let’s also include a boost to visitor tourism. We can look forward to a day when most workers on a movie or TV project are our very own residents.

According to a report from the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition, “Georgia residents make up more than 80% of on-set workers, in jobs that pay an average of $84,000 a year.”

Oklahoma has increased its state program from $4 million, to $8 million, to $30 million. CBS News reported in December 2022 that Oklahoma made $240 million in revenue over 18 months with its incentives.

In a film incentive report from the fourth quarter of 2020, the state of Illinois reported $128,560,225.80 spent in the state and $74,926,959.27 in wages paid to its residents.

With more than 4,000 students graduating from film and media programs each year at our colleges and universities, Missouri and Kansas are in the business of training and exporting talent. We need to be able to give these young people an industry in their own states to live and work in.

A film incentive program requires a project to qualify and be accepted first. Then recipients must spend their money producing the project, after which an independent audit of their expenses is done. And then they must submit proof of payments and receipts for audit. I agree Missouri and Kansas are and should be concerned about oversight. We all want the program to be used well and properly.

The film and media industry continues to expand — films, streaming shows, television, gaming and more. Want new dollars coming into our states? Want projects, especially our own stories, to be shot here, where we can gain the full benefit of these projects? Yes.

Missouri and Kansas deserve to be on screen, to gain an infusion of new dollars into our economies and new job opportunities for our growing workforce.

Justin Begnaud is a Kansas City area resident who serves on the boards of directors for the 501(c)(6) nonprofit Film In MO and the 501(4)(c) nonprofit Grow Kansas Film.