Fight the smackdown of film biz’s success

by | Feb 21, 2011 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

We look like fools.

We built an industry, created jobs, saw buildings rise.

And in a single moment, Rick Snyder slashed its head off.

Unless state legislators show a spirit that our numbers-only governor does not, the movie and TV business is dead in Michigan.

And before you say, “Who needs those Hollywood types?”, consider all the carpenters, electricians and drivers this thriving industry put to work. Consider the hotels, restaurants, car rentals. Ask yourself if any other field grew 100 times over – from $2 million to $225 million – in two years, if any other field kept our young, bright minds from leaving or brought more attention to the beauty and talent of our state.

Snyder acts as if the world consists of one type of business – a type that only wants low state taxes. He’s wrong.

He’s also confusing. As a person who helped create the film credits program, I asked for months to meet with Snyder to show they could be tightened but kept going. I finally was granted that meeting two weeks ago. Snyder told me, to my face, he planned to honor the commitments already made and allocate $100 million annually to the program – a drop in the bucket of a $47-billion state budget. While this new cap represented a slowdown, I thought, in desperate times, it was almost enough to keep the new studios and work force going.

Then, on Thursday, he announced his actual allocation to the film program: $25 million.

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

Should we move to South Dakota?

I have since heard from several others who feel that the governor misled them, too. I e-mailed his office numerous times this past week and finally got a message from his communications director claiming what Snyder meant when he told me $100 million was the $25 million he allocated and paying off $75 million in existing obligations.

If he meant that, he could have said it. Either way, he kills the future of the film/TV/video game industry here. With such a low cap, few new projects will come. Many have pulled out in the last few days. Studios just washed millions down the drain. Folks who moved here to be part of a growing industry will leave again.

And we look like fools. Imagine a state that yells, “Come on in!”, leads the nation in a program – then three years later shuts it down. Would you want to do business here?

And this is where Snyder’s philosophy is built on wobbly legs. As a man with no public service history, he may only view the world like an executive: make it cheap for me to operate.

But if all problems were solved by low business taxes, why isn’t South Dakota the most popular state in the U.S.? According to the Tax Foundation, South Dakota has the most business-friendly tax climate in America. Do you see everyone flocking there? Its growth rate was below the national level the last 10 years. It has three of the six poorest counties in the nation.

But hey! It’s good for business! And where did Snyder, when he was looking for profits as president of Gateway, have its headquarters?

South Dakota.

And after he left that position, the computer company moved to California anyhow – the second-worst business tax climate in America – looking for a hipper environment and a deeper talent pool.

The birth of a good thing

This proves other things matter, too. Your geography, your work force, your education level, your services. And, yes, your creative and inventive base.

The movie/TV/video game industry will not come here under the Snyder Principle. It just won’t. It’s an industry with incentives, but with quick returns, too.

Which is why state legislators should step up – call them! – to save Michigan’s movie business by allocating $150 million annually, thus ensuring nearly $400 million a year in film/TV activity. Not because it’s more important than other things. But because it worked. Because it energized our young citizens. Because it won’t break the bank – and, if allowed to thrive, will eventually more than pay for itself.

Because our Michigan can’t be viewed only through a CEO’s lens, a budget that shows little regard for poor and elderly people, but twists like a pretzel for certain businesses.

And because when thousands of people invest in building an industry in your state, you shouldn’t just kick them in the teeth and make Michigan look ridiculous in the process.

Come on. Gov. Snyder has spoken. Now we can.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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