Elvis Presley (copy)

Elvis Presley performs for a packed house at the 'Louisiana Hayride' Dec. 15, 1956.

The mainstay of Louisiana’s economy has gone from hunters and gatherers, to agriculture, to oil and gas, to profiting from federal largesse after disasters.

And we seem quite happy with our new milieu.

One day we are going to wake up and find that Mississippi or West Virginia are no longer below us in national rankings. Why? Because we keep missing opportunities to grow and attract jobs for our people and our economy

We’ve had a chance to grow an industry that Louisiana should own but Tennessee, Texas and Georgia have beat us to the punch in the South. We figured out how to become a player in the movie business, so now it’s time to become established as the music business capital.

It’s a real business: Not just our great jazz, Cajun, rock, blues, Creole, bounce and zydeco musicians, but the publishers, managers, labels and IP managers who support them, as well. That’s real economic development of an industry Louisiana should own, with thousands of full-time permanent jobs. A clean and growing music industry contributes to tourism, one of our mainstays.

There’s a bill in the current session of the Legislature to fix an existing tax credit for the music industry that’s already on the books.

The Quality Music Company tax credits have gone mostly unused because of the requirement that they apply the credits against their tax liability. Since most startups and new Louisiana companies will not make a profit or have a tax liability for years, the law had been prohibitive for the very music companies it was intended to attract and help.

House Bill 445 by state Rep. Ryan Bourriaque, R-Abbeville, corrects the problem created in the 2017 law by allowing companies to apply the credits for new jobs toward their tax liability and receive a refund for the unused balance of credits. HB 445 passed the House 85-13 and awaits action in the Senate.

The cap of $2.16 million for the entire Sound Recording tax credit program, of which the Qualified Music Company is only a part, will remain the same, so there’s no additional fiscal exposure to the state. It’s literally a drop in the bucket when the state is budgeting over $40 billion.

More usable incentives in HB 445 will create more fulltime, permanent jobs for companies that invest in the state. Those kinds of jobs have a proven, positive return-on-investment for states.

People and businesses have been leaving the highly taxed east and west coasts but they’re not coming to Louisiana. Working people are leaving Louisiana at a pace of 25,000 per year and more. As the Biden administration spends and incentivizes businesses away from oil and natural gas, our outmigration problems will surely worsen.

That’s all the more reason why we need tax incentives right now to compete with the southern states which have no income taxes and are claiming those clean, high-paying, long-lasting jobs in the music industry.

The current music industry has a huge economic impact on our state. According to 50statesofmusic.com, the music industry contributes $1.2 billion to Louisiana’s GDP with 30,049 jobs supported; 1,691 music establishments; 2,997 royalty recipients; and 25,150 songwriters.

“From Louis Armstrong to Britney Spears, Louisiana has a diverse and vibrant music heritage that crosses genres and had for decades produced unforgettable, impactful songs,” the website details. “The southern region of the state is the birthplace of traditional Creole and zydeco music, originating with slave songs and later incorporating those melodies and rhythms into more instrumental, contemporary sounds.

“Northern Louisiana is most famous for its contemporary country music superstars Tim McGraw, Trace Adkins, and Hank Williams Jr, among others, and the radio program ‘Louisiana Hayride,’ which is widely viewed as a predecessor to The Grand Ole Opry and in the 1950s broadcast live performances by virtually every country icon in the region. New Orleans has a musical identity of its own and is responsible for the genesis of Dixieland jazz and a subgenre of the blues known for its Caribbean influences.”

The music industry as a whole grew 9.2% in 2020, according to Goldman Sachs, and the value of its products is set to double by 2030.

Why not go after a growing music industry and build it to replace the jobs lost in the shrinking fossil fuel industry — before it’s too late?

Email Garey Forster at garey.forster@gmail.com.

Garey Forster is former chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives and a former Louisiana Secretary of Labor. His column runs weekly. Email him at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.