If South Carolina is going to offer tax incentives to lure film and other entertainment projects here, it should be competitive. Today, it is not.
In Beaufort County, once a hot spot for Hollywood films, we've seen very little action for more than a decade now. The last major movie filmed here was in 1999. The lull coincides with stepped-up incentives in Canada and other states, such as Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina, all three offering backdrops similar to ours.
But a bill moving in the Senate would get South Carolina on more equal footing. The Senate Finance Committee has approved a measure that would increase rebates to 30 percent for supplies and 20 percent for wages. If the company hires a South Carolina resident, the wage rebate goes to 25 percent. Companies must spend at least $1 million to qualify for the rebates.
South Carolina now offers a 15 percent rebate on wages and a 15 percent rebate for equipment and goods purchased or rented from South Carolina companies.
Those rebates are not working. A very telling sign is that production companies only tapped $6 million of $10 million the legislature set aside for wage rebates last year. Money for the supply rebate comes from the state admissions tax.
Compare that with the $200 million in rebates Georgia gave out for its now $3.1 billion film industry. In 2012, that state hosted 32 films and television shows, according to Lee Thomas, the director of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office.
Tax incentives offered by Georgia differ significantly from South Carolina's. Georgia offers a 20 percent rebate to production companies that spend at least $500,000, and an additional 10 percent of the movie or television show includes a Georgia promotional logo in its credits. Many do, bringing the total rebate to 30 percent.
North Carolina, too, is ahead of us. It offers a 25 percent rebate for companies that spend at least $250,000.
From 2007 to 2011, South Carolina paid $21 million in rebates to nine film productions, including "Army Wives," the Lifetime network series filmed in Charleston, according to a 2011 study prepared for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Combined with some other productions helped by the S.C. Film Commission, the film industry generated $86.9 million in sales for state businesses and supported 1,610 jobs that paid $48.5 million in wages.
That seems impressive until you compare it with Georgia's return on investment.
Tax incentives might not be the only reason filmmakers are bypassing South Carolina, but as they stand today, they aren't keeping us competitive.
If we're going to have them, lawmakers should make them count.