Point of View

NC lawmakers must keep sun shining over Hollywood East with film incentives

June 16, 2014 

I grew up seeing the production trucks line my neighborhood. I can trace my age by the seasons of “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” that were being filmed down the street from my home.

Growing up in Wilmington, home to the largest soundstage east of Los Angeles, the largest special effects water tank in North America and the hopeful moniker of “Hollywood East,” I find it hard to separate jobs from film.

The film industry has long been a vital part of Eastern North Carolina’s economy. In the past five years alone, the industry has spent $1.2 billion in North Carolina, most recently including $130 million from “Iron Man 3.”

The corridor from Raleigh to Wilmington is home to a crew base of over 1,000 with decades of experience – from electricians to special effects technicians, from casting directors to location managers.

Last week, the N.C. General Assembly seemed to miss the dollars and cents. The Finance Committee voted 20-16 against an amendment that would have saved the state’s film incentives program by extending it to 2017, past its current sunset slated for the end of this year. Ted Davis (R-19th District) District) was one of the few Republicans who sought compromise, fighting for Wilmington by proposing to reduce the tax credit to 22.5 percent.

Our current incentive is designed to provide television and film production companies with a 25 percent refund on the money they spend in state. For many years, this incentive has brought large-scale productions to North Carolina that normally would have stayed in California.

While Senate Bill 743 is in the works to offer production companies a grant program, it is clear to the industry that it cannot build its budgets around the possibility of grants.

As much as the film incentives dominate the conversation, the Finance Committee’s vote sheds light on an even larger issue. North Carolina has long distinguished itself from the rest of the South by thinking forward and acting forward with careful attention to compromise. In this vote, much like the work of the past legislative year, we have taken forceful steps away from that reputation.

North Carolina is typically a state that watches the changing economy closely. As Rob Christensen noted in his book “The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics,” few states moved the economic distance that we did during the past century.

There is, he notes, a booster spirit about North Carolina that wants the best universities, the best roads, the best skyscrapers and the best life. It is that same booster spirit that brought us the competitive film incentive program that has fueled the economy for over 30 years. Our current General Assembly has lost sight of the booster spirit, evident in the current malaiseover the potential of the film industry.

But the General Assembly is also forgetting something else. The film industry acts as a continuous marketer of our state. Rare is the trip out of state when I do not come across someone who knows our state by “Matlock” or “Revolution.”

North Carolina, especially the communities of Charlotte and Wilmington, spread the message about the new south in a robust and dynamic way. The film incentive is a vital part of that.

Compromise is never too late, especially if it means we might stop the sun from setting on Hollywood East.

Andrew Barnhill of Wilmington is the National Committeeman for the Young Democrats of North Carolina and a member of the State Executive Council of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

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