Business

Wilmington bemoans loss of film tax credit

Posted August 5, 2014 6:51 p.m. EDT

— The closing credits could soon roll on North Carolina's film industry.

The $21.1 billion state budget that awaits Gov. Pat McCrory's signature includes $10 million in grants for the film industry. That's 16 percent of the amount the state handed out in tax credits to the industry last year – or less than half of what it took to lure "Iron Man 3" to film in North Carolina.

"We needed to make some changes in our current film incentives," McCrory said Tuesday.

So, lawmakers allowed the existing tax credit, which allowed production companies to recoup 25 percent of their qualified costs in the state, up to $20 million, to expire at the end of 2014. Film industry boosters aren't quite ready to throw in the towel, but they acknowledge that, with production planning taking six months or more, the sun may have already set on "Wilmywood."

"You have those who are not going to give up the fight. You have those that are already putting their houses on the market. Then you have those that are just scared out of their minds," said Sheila Brothers, editor of The Wilmywood Daily blog.

In 2013, film projects spent more than $66 million on goods, nearly $7.5 million on services and $137.5 million in wages, officials said. State tax credits amounted to more than $61 million.

"If we don't end up with a good incentive package, the business goes away," said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.

Matt Schuler moved to Wilmington four years ago and now owns Number 9 Bakery and Lounge – but he would prefer to be an actor in town.

"What I really like about Wilmington is it has the film industry and it gives you a chance to break in to the film industry in a small market," Schuler said.

McCrory and legislative leaders say North Carolina cannot afford to continue handing out tax credits.

"Anyone who's not satisfied with how much money they got, where would you like that money to come from?" the governor asked.

Businesses in Wilmington say, however, that the state can't afford to lose the film industry.

"The money they can spend in my restaurant, that goes to my servers, to my bartenders. It goes to everybody," Schuler said.

"The last production to shoot here is called 'The Choice,'" Brothers said. "We've got a choice to make: Are we going to keep our jobs, or are we going to let them move to Georgia?"