Every state is looking to take business from Georgia — here’s why N.J. has legitimate chance to do so

When the outrage following Georgia’s new voting laws started impacting business and industry in the state — starting with the loss of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy responded as so many other governors did, imploring companies to bring their business to their states.

But Murphy’s appeal to television and film industry companies should not be confused as a one-time, one-off opportunity to grab a game or a project. His interest in the industry has been strong since he took office, including the 2018 instatement of New Jersey Film & Digital Media Tax Credit Program, which he extended in 2020.

Outside of wind energy, there are few industries the state has targeted more than TV and film production. Simply put, the state is set up to handle production companies now.

Murphy’s ask — in an open letter sent to Disney, Warner Bros., Netflix and others last Thursday — is just the latest in an ongoing effort to build the sector here.

In fact, the governor had the film industry in mind when he pushed for the transformative projects provision in the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2021. It’s a provision that could provide millions in incentives — but only if a sector is willing to make a major commitment to the state.

Joe Kelley, Murphy’s deputy chief of staff for economic growth throughout his first term, told ROI-NJ as much during a lengthy interview earlier this spring.

“We see it as an opportunity for a sector,” he said. “Let’s say the film industry, where someone is going to be doing over 250,000 square feet of soundstages. You’re not talking about relocating a company, you’re talking about relocating a sector.

“So, it’s much more of a moonshot than saying, ‘I want to get company X to put their R&D facility here.’ In this case, it would be getting a healthy chunk of all TV production on the East Coast and landing it in New Jersey.”

Kelley repeated that wish this past weekend.

“Gov. Murphy has been pitching the film industry on New Jersey for years,” he said. “In early 2019, the governor, first lady and entire state economic development team met with several large studio heads, and it became clear that, because of our talent and location, New Jersey could become the East Coast production leader in the coming years.

“Using our transformational new incentives, that could be a reality very soon.”

And, while the original focus may have been to lure production companies across the Hudson, where they could find more square footage for studios (and at lower rents), luring them from Georgia works, too.

Murphy, in his letter, said the state’s incentives for the film industry — which include a 30% tax credit on film projects and a 40% subsidy for any brick-and-mortar studio development in the state — matches the incentives given out by Georgia, which has seen a huge growth in the sector since introducing its incentives in 2005.

And the extension of the bill, which Murphy signed in January 2020 — just a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state — lengthened the program’s tenure by an additional five years.

It will remain in place until July 1, 2028, and adds $25 million to the annual cap on qualified film production expenses, bringing it to $100 million per year. The current digital tax credit’s cap of $10 million per year will remain unchanged.

Jose Lozano, the CEO of Choose New Jersey, has made film and television production a key initiative the past three years. Choose New Jersey, in fact, has a page on its website that specifically touts the numerous benefits and advantages of filming in New Jersey.

“This is so much more than getting companies to move to New Jersey,” he said. “This is helping to build on an ecosystem that’s already here.

“We have had tremendous success building an industry here. It all stems from the spring of 2019 trip to Los Angeles, where the governor met with every major studio to make the case firsthand.”

The state’s commitment to the industry also speaks to its commitment to underserved communities. The state’s program includes a 2% bonus on the tax credit for companies that hire women and minorities for key creative positions and production crews.

“We believe diversity is our greatest strength, and that the plurality of backgrounds produces new ideas that spur innovation and authentic storytelling,” the site says.

For Murphy, the state’s unwavering commitment to its population — the most diverse in the country — is a strong selling point, especially coming off the new voting rules in Georgia, which many have viewed as being discriminatory.

“One thing is clear: when it comes to social policies, corporate responsibility, and — not to be overlooked — economic opportunity, New Jersey is now a top contender for your business,” he said in the letter (which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal).

“If you are looking to expand, relocate, or consolidate, we respectfully invite you to come experience all that the Garden State has to offer, including our shared values of protecting the constitutionally granted rights of our citizens.”

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