Louisiana’s motion picture industry made up about 1 percent of the state’s economic activity in 2015 in the heyday of the state’s film tax credit program that created Hollywood South, according to a federal report.
In all, Louisiana’s arts and cultural sectors added $7.7 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, putting it in the middle of the pack compared to other U.S. states, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report showed. Motion pictures comprised about $2.7 billion of that, supporting more than 8,000 jobs and $383 million in wages. The state experienced high growth in arts and cultural production from 2014 to 2015.
The report's 2015 data reflects the state’s film industry near its peak, before lawmakers reined in a tax credit program that same year with legislative changes.
"I'm a little surprised the number is that big," said economist Loren Scott, who conducts regular economic analyses of the state's film tax credit program.
Scott's studies don't measure the impact of the industry as a percent of GDP; he instead focuses on job numbers and the impact to the state budget. On that front, the program is "quite the hit" to the state budget, he said.
According to the most recent economic impact study commissioned by Louisiana Economic Development and authored by Scott, the state handed out $268 million in tax credits to the film industry in 2015, and certified north of $860 million in production spending. Taxpayers get about 22 cents back for every dollar spent on tax credits for the film program, the study said.
It's not surprising to see much larger arts GDP in California, Scott said, or in Georgia, which has a more lucrative film incentive.
"Unless you are willing to spend the money to subsidize that sector, it’s really hard to get it out of California," he said.
Chris Stelly, director of Louisiana Entertainment, said recent tweaks to the film program since the 2015 changes have strengthened it and created better incentives for local spending and job creation.
"This federal study reinforces what we have long known about the film industry in Louisiana: its economic impact on our state is significant," he said in a statement, noting the study's numbers are three years old. "Then, as now, the industry had a broad reach in terms of good-paying jobs provided to Louisiana residents and economic activity generated by film production."
The BEA report, released in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, detailed the $763 billion in economic activity generated by arts and cultural industries in the U.S. in 2015. The arts comprised 4.2 percent of U.S. GDP, a measure of all goods and services.
The legislative changes reining in Louisiana's program in 2015 caused a steep downturn in activity in the industry here. However, industry leaders and the state agency that oversees the film incentives say the sector is experiencing a rebound after a new round of legislative changes made last year.