Nothing personifies the Florida vs. Georgia rivalry like the annual football game between the states’ flagship universities. The so-called “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville is one of the great rivalries in college football and one in which the Gators generally have prevailed in recent years. The last match-up was no exception as Florida beat the Bulldogs decisively, 27-3.
But, the rivalry between the states that counts is on the economic development battleground, not the gridiron. Traditionally, the battles between the two states have been over traditional businesses and industries. Take ports, for example.
In the 10 years between 2003 and 2013, Georgia came out swinging, investing significantly in its port infrastructure. As a result, the Port of Savannah, almost 20 miles from the Atlantic saw its tonnage increase by 36.7 percent across 10 years, according to the Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics. It bypassed a number of Florida ports and now only Port Tampa Bay (among Sunshine State ports) was handling more tonnage by 2013.
Florida responded. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott teamed up with the Florida Ports Council to tout the $850 million the state has spent on ports during his tenure and reiterated his commitment to spend more than $1 billion across the course of his administration.
Now a new, and somewhat unexpected battleground has emerged: the film, television and digital industry and, for the time being, Georgia has roared out to an early lead.
Florida’s film rebate program, designed to encourage filmmakers to produce movies, television shows and other video content in the state, has been unsuccessful with the Legislature declining to renew the program. In the meantime, Georgia is moving swiftly and decisively to expand its credits and position itself as the Hollywood of the South.
The move is winning the state accolades in some prestigious economic development circles.
Site Selection magazine, in its current edition, ranked Georgia as having the No. 1 business climate in the nation – for the third year in a row. (Florida fared well also, finishing No. 11 overall and tied for second in one key economic development metric.)
The publication interviewed Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) about his state finishing on top for the third year in a row, and Deal told the magazine a key was for government to “get its policies” right. He cited tax and regulatory reform, along with workforce training and education – all long-recognized building blocks of economic development and a strong business climate. Right after that, he touted the state’s investment in tax rebates for the film industry.
Deal can quickly recite what he sees as the film industry’s benefits in the state: 248 productions, $1.7 billion in direct spending, a $6 billion overall economic impact. He points to Ant-Man,” this year’s hit starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, as an individual example. The producers of the film spent $106 million in Georgia, employed more than 3,500 Georgians and utilized more than 22,000 hotel room nights.
“Georgia’s film industry has had a significant impact on the state,” Deal told Site Selection. “These statistics represent job creation, increased business opportunities and the revitalization of communities statewide.”
The governor reiterated his commitment to continuing to build the industry, and the evidence is clear that the film industry is in Georgia to stay. British giant Pinewood Studies (where portions of every James Bond movie have been filmed) has built a major facility in suburban Atlanta. A new studio is sprouting in Savannah and, possibly most concerning to Florida, the state now is beginning to invest in educating future filmmakers.
According to the Savannah Morning News, several networks and top production companies warned Georgia that finding trained film crews was becoming a challenge as the industry expanded into the state and that a lack of well-trained behind-the-camera talent posed a significant danger to future development of the Georgia film industry.
The deputy director of the Georgia Film Commission was quoted in the article as saying the state’s response would be swift and comprehensive. “We want to change the perception, we want to be proactive, we want to show people we really are doing something to meet the needs,” he said.
One major result is the creation of the Georgia Film Academy, a collaboration of the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia. The academy aims to coordinate film industry training programs in the state and certify workers for the industry.
That is a direct challenge to Florida, where the state has invested in film schools and programs at many state universities. Notable programs include the Film School at the University of Central Florida and the College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts at Florida State. There also are numerous private colleges, such as Full Sail University, that have strong film programs. The concern is that Georgia will start luring away Florida film students before they enroll, much less graduate.
Florida began the decade looking like it could compete on the film playing field, spending almost $300 million in rebates/incentives to the film industry, but the program has been unfunded since at least 2014. Film Florida, the industry’s not-for-profit association, will try to convince legislators to revisit the issue and provide funding to a revised rebate program, a program Film Florida is touting as “the most fiscally conservative entertainment industry program in America.”
In the coming weeks, we will examine the Florida film industry’s game plan for turning the tide and scoring another victory against Georgia.
The clock is ticking.