Under bright lights and in front of whirring cameras, tens of millions of dollars — perhaps hundreds of millions — are on the table. And the Minnesota Legislature this session wisely and finally created an incentive so the state can start tapping into and going after game-changing chunks of free-spending Hollywood’s economy-boosting and area-promoting glitz and glamour.
The incentive is the Minnesota Film Production Tax Credit and was included in the 2021 omnibus tax bill approved by both the House and Senate.
“We did it!” Riki McManus, chief production officer of the Upper Midwest Film Office in Duluth, said shortly after the tax credit was signed into law July 1 by Gov. Tim Walz.
The tax credit can start being offered to TV and film projects and pretty much anyone else out there shooting and creating, giving them reason to come to Minnesota to create and spend, which will boost our state’s economy. Available are tax credits of up to 25% on qualified purchases and expenditures made in-state. It’s sizable and attractive savings, the likes of which are already bolstering TV and film endeavors elsewhere and are often the nudge needed when shooting locations are being chosen.
The state’s tax credit comes on the heels of a similar rebate created in December by our St. Louis County Board on qualified filming expenditures of up to 25% in the county and 20% on the Iron Range. It also followed legislative efforts that fell short in past sessions.
“I believe (state lawmakers) took a more serious look this year because of the step that St. Louis County did in adding a production incentive for our county,” McManus said. “That has already helped us bring projects to the region. We have wrapped two feature films already and have three more that are working on getting certified for shooting in the Northland. I am in the process of scouting for another that would be our largest economic impact so far that will shoot in April if we find the right locations for them.”
With the state incentive now in place, in addition to the county’s, “We are now getting a workforce ready” in Minnesota for an emerging new film industry, she said.
And at a great moment, with movies and TV shows ramping up again post-pandemic.
“We are offering workshops to train up a crew to get ready to step into positions in these productions. It’s all about job creation in a very interesting industry,” said McManus. “This positive step that Gov. Walz and the Minnesota legislators just did will really make the film and content industry take notice. It signifies that we are serious about bringing this kind of economic impact to our state.”
Good news for taxpayers: No incentive is paid out until a production company starts spending money in Minnesota. All the more reason to woo what is a $70 billion industry in the U.S. — and what has been until now an untapped opportunity for Duluth, the Northland, and Minnesota.
Some big Hollywood productions have been shot in Minnesota, including "Iron Will" in and around Duluth; "North Country" and "I Am Not a Serial Killer" on the Iron Range; "Fargo" in and around the Twin Cities; and "Grumpy Old Men" in Minneapolis, Chanhassen, and Lake City. Also, between 2014 and 2018, at least 11 small feature films and two TV series filmed in the Duluth and North Shore areas, representing more than $4 million in spending on local wages and at local businesses, according to Minnesota Film and TV.
Minnesota now joins at least 30 other states in offering an incentive to attract even more production projects.
"An incentive program like a film credit is the only way to build a thriving industry in Minnesota, because so many other states and countries have implemented film credits," Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm, an author of the Senate bill, said during a Senate tax committee meeting in April. "Due to their success, it's now a necessary condition for attracting large projects."
Catalyst Story Institute moved to Duluth in 2018 specifically because it looked like the state was going to start offering the film incentive. The institute's CEO said a colleague at HBO told him that if Minnesota had film incentives, the state would have been chosen for $100 million of productions in 2019 alone.
Those millions in economic impact for the state are an opportunity no longer being ignored.
“American film and television content is among the most in-demand products made anywhere in the world, and that demand has never been higher,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, executive director of SAG-AFTRA, the labor union for screen and radio artists, said in a statement released by the Upper Midwest Film Office in Duluth. “Production leads to the creation of many jobs beyond the set: From hospitality workers, drivers and the building trades, the spillover benefits reach far beyond the industry itself. With the passage of this tax incentive bill, the state of Minnesota has claimed its place in this growing industry.”
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.