Guest column: How film tax incentives can boost El Paso’s economy
Editor’s Note: Next Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 8 a.m., a City Council meeting will be held in which advocates will ask city council to reaffirm its commitment for legislation to increase film incentives. Suggesting that such incentives would boost the city’s economy and keep homegrown talent in El Paso, filmmakers are urging citizens to attend the meeting. Considering El Paso’s heavy interest in filmmaking, we invited filmmaker and City Representative Peter Svarzbein, who introduced the legislation, to explore the subject in this week’s column.
If interested in attending Tuesday’s meeting, visit the EP Film City Council Meeting page on Facebook. To gain more perspective on the impact of film incentives, visit local filmmaker and producer Carlos Corral’s blog post.
Last weekend, I had the fortunate opportunity to spend some time with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at the Texas Tribune Festival. His love of El Paso is genuine and he asked about some of the items I was passionate in helping to shape El Paso policy and our economic future. The topic of film incentives came up and Gov. Richardson’s face lit up.
“You know, I took a lot of what we created in New Mexico from y’all in Texas,” he told me.
Well, with New Mexico recently receiving over $390 million in direct economic impact for film and TV production – this year alone – in large part due to New Mexico’s embrace of incentives for film production, the governor was prophetic in his embrace of film incentives.
There are real tangible economic benefits to have film and television production dollars circulating in our economy, so much so that our City Council unanimously approved legislation on May 13, which my office introduced to work with our state delegation to draft priority legislation for increased film incentives. El Paso would take the lead on a statewide issue that directly affects the Sun City.
So, why is this important?
El Paso’s proximity to New Mexico makes it vitally important that we try as hard as we can to remain competitive with New Mexico in terms of incentives to attract film and television production dollars to this city. This legislation that council originally passed on May 13 would help to counter the brain drain plaguing our city and keep smart, hard-working El Pasoans working here in El Paso, as opposed to moving to Austin, Albuquerque or Los Angeles.
The impact of film and television production on New Mexico’s economy has been tremendous. In 2015, over $288 million was directly pumped into their economy and that number jumped to $390 million in 2016, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
And these dollars don’t just go to filmmakers, cinematographers or grips. Hotels see increased business. Carpenters, catering companies and more see and feel an impact through film dollars. The jobs that are on film sets pay higher than others and help diversify our economy here on the border.
Furthermore, as a city, we have a problem with telling our story and showing all the good things that we have here. As it stands, when there have been productions in our city, such as “The Bridge” and “Sicario,” that are partially based in our region and which portray our region in a negative light, they spend almost no time or money in our city. This leaves us with the negative impact of media (mis)representation without any positive economic impact for the region.
My interest in film as economic development for El Paso comes from a personal space. I have worked in film and photography both in a commercial space and as an adjunct professor for over 12 years. On October 4, City Council will have the ability to reaffirm its commitment to some of the best and brightest and hardest working El Pasoans in the creative class and film industry. A vote our council already took, which passed unanimously, would let El Paso take the lead in the state on a subject that will have a very real impact for our city.
Let’s not let that opportunity pass us by.