Stand Up for Creative Jobs

04/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Financial news reporting has been in the news itself of late as Americans ask the timely question 'who knew what and when' about the state of our economy and the subsequent extraordinary burden being placed on every American as we strive as a nation to right the ship.

Amid the Monday morning quarterbacking and public outcry for accountability, I've noticed a disturbing trend among some of the more ardent free-market champions. This trend -- bias, specifically -- has implications for everyone who makes a living not building cars or homes or other manufactured goods, but through the creative arts -- crafting something new and exciting with their minds and sharing it with the world.

As business and government leaders dig in for the tough work of retooling our economy, every corner of our nation is looking for innovative ways to nurture fresh growth opportunities. Against this backdrop, 42 states in our union have developed innovative recruitment campaigns aimed at attracting and building a thriving local film and television production industry.

Tax incentives, built responsibly, can serve a critical role in economic stimulus. To do so, they must achieve three objectives: create jobs, increase commerce and generate a positive return on taxpayers' investment. Taking the New York Production Tax Credit as an example, the program overwhelmingly passes this litmus test. According to Ernst & Young, it's created 32,000 jobs and injected $2 billion in spending into the New York economy in the past year alone. And, for every $1 in incentives, New York gets a 90% return on its investment. What investor (let alone Governor or State Legislature) would say no to that?

Yet according to The Wall Street Journal editorial board, New York should abandon its efforts to attract and retain film and television production because "New York City can survive without Alec Baldwin and 30 Rock." Of course, such a comment misses the entire point of why Mr. Baldwin and other A-list actors are so adamant in defense of these programs. While they would be fine either way, the overwhelming majority of their colleagues -- middle-class workers earning a living wage as make-up artists, camera men, set builders, writers and beyond -- would not.

The New York production tax incentive is designed so that the 400 workers on a major motion picture production or the 160 on a television series are employed up front and are paid over the course of production. That means they are spending money and having their state income tax obligation immediately withheld. Further, the enormous amount of goods and services that are purchased within the $160,000 to $225,000 per day by a film production that lasts three to twelve months also bolsters the state and local economy and produces significant revenues. And, the state doesn't allow the credit to be claimed by the production company until the motion picture has wrapped or the television series production has ended. Basically, the state has an average of 18 months between the time of production and the time to pay the credit claim, interest free.

Michigan, facing the ominous teetering of the auto industry, has found refuge in film production as well. A New York Times piece from this week highlights the jobs and revenues film productions are injecting into the state. Last year, Michigan's tax credits generated almost $54 million in new employment income and created more than a thousand full-time Michigan jobs.

Robert Redford recognized the priority of this kind of economic diversification in his recent defense of funding for the National Endowment of the Arts. "All the people connected with the arts are at risk," he said, "just like everybody else." (Cherished for its cultural contributions, the Sundance Film Festival also brings $30 million annually to Utah's economy).

Film and television production contributes $60 billion annually to the U.S. economy and sustains 1.5 million American jobs. It's hard not to note the irony that while state and local policymakers have found an innovative and effective way to lure new creative jobs and growth opportunities, the nation waits to see if the federal stimulus package will have similar positive results. Whether we build cars or movie sets shouldn't matter in the least today. What matters most are constructive policies that get America back to work and to growth.

On St. Patrick's Day, President Obama encouraged the nation to temporarily lay down its collective burdens. He noted that "comfort can be found in faith and families, laughter and love, poetry and song." Most Americans are well aware of the enduring comfort that the arts provide. We see it on display every weekend at the local multiplex. We should continue to celebrate these contributions. But we also can't afford to undervalue the contributions the arts -- and the millions of Americans whose creativity and innovation in film and television make it such a pace-setting industry -- can make to our nation's economic renewal.