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New film incentives focus on one thing: keeping Austin's creative class in Austin

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Austin, Texas, skyline, downtown
New film incentives look to continue making Austin the place to make movies, TV shows and video games. Photo by Ed Schipul/Flickr
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The new incentives are a way to continue attracting professionals to create their productions in Austin. Photo courtesy of Austin Film Festival
filmmakers at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz for Austin Youth Film Festival
New incentives can also help to keep the next generation of filmmakers here within the Austin workforce. Photo courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse
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With new incentives, producers of other forms of entertainment such as television and video games can also find a new home in Austin. Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC
Austin, Texas, skyline, downtown
Austin Photo Set: News_Katherine Craft_AFF_5 things you didn't know_Oct 2011_audience
filmmakers at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz for Austin Youth Film Festival
News_Friday Night Lights_TV show_cast

Overshadowed by the buzzier "rideshare" pilot program that was passed by the Austin City Council on the same day, a new set of incentives aimed at television, film and other media projects also got the green light. Passed on May 17, the Creative Content Incentive Program features economic drivers aimed at not only attracting new productions, but also at keeping Austin's homegrown creative class working within the city limits.

The revamped Creative Content Incentive Program favors Austin-based production companies, offering a return of up to .75 percent on wages. For nonlocal companies who choose to film in Austin, the City offers up to .50 percent return on wages paid. Currently, there is $250,000 of the city's Economic Incentives Reserves Fund set aside for CCIP, an amount that is expected to grow in the coming years.

Why would the city want to focus on attracting these kind of creative projects? Because despite Austin's constant influx of technology and information jobs, we are no longer competing with other places to employ the creative or skilled workforce needed for media production.

 "By attracting all types of production, we can create a stronger production ecosystem with more consistent local job opportunities for our creative workforce," says Natalie Betts ....

"The Creative Content Incentive Program is focused on keeping Austin competitive for productions that employ our local film and digital media workforce," says Natalie Betts, the global business expansion and recruitment coordinator working for the city's Economic Development Department.

Before considering the new incentives, the City Council looked at major film and television productions in neighboring New Mexico and Louisiana. After passing new incentives in the early 2000s, both states saw significant increases over the next decade. Louisiana saw particularly rapid growth, going from one major production in 2002 to 118 productions in 2010.

Granted, the film, television and video game industry has been healthy in Austin over the past several years, contributing an impressive $1.27 billion annually to the local economy and creating 10,000 jobs. But just as Governor Rick Perry loves to poach jobs from California and New York, those states may start doing the same with Austin’s deep pool of creative talent.

Passing this latest ordinance is a preemptive move to prevent that from happening in the future. "The intent of the program is to support all forms of film, television and digital media productions in Austin that employ local workers," says Betts. "These production types are eligible for the same level of incentives in the Creative Content Incentive Program. By attracting all types of production, we can create a stronger production ecosystem with more consistent local job opportunities for our creative workforce."

It's a potential workforce already built into our community. A separate report provided to the City Council points to the thousands of students already enrolled in local film schools, including 1,160 currently studying at the University of Texas at Austin's Radio-Television-Film program, not to mention the Austin School of Film and Austin Community College.

It also makes economic sense to favor local production companies, too. Since the city entered into a partnership with Austin Film Society to develop Austin Studios in 2000, Austin Studios has been home to more than 235 productions, leaving an impact of $1.3 billion on the local economy and bringing more than 8,000 jobs to the area.

With Austin's workforce continuing to grow, it makes economic — and cultural — sense to find ways to diversify it. With all of these facets working together, our economy could remain healthy for decades to come. 

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