Incentives should pay

If incentives to lure Hollywood films to South Carolina don't produce significant benefits for the state, then cut back on the incentives.

That's precisely what South Carolina has done after finding out that the films it managed to lure to the state were hiring too many out-of-state residents. Economists told state officials that out-of-state spending creates no economic benefit to justify the incentives.

South Carolina spent about $15 million last year on its biggest film-incentive program ever. The state offered an up-front cash subsidy at 20 percent of wages and 30 percent of purchases.

And Hollywood responded. The state managed to land seven films and a TV series in the past year.

Unfortunately, much of the subsidy went to workers and suppliers from outside the state. Meanwhile, the pool of homegrown production workers -- those who operate the cameras, set up lighting, build sets, etc. -- continued to dwindle.

State officials, sensibly, decided to lower incentives for out-of-state hiring and spending. As of July 1, rebates for out-of-state hires were limited to 10 percent and rebates were eliminated altogether for out-of-state spending.

Area residents certainly can understand the allure of having a Hollywood movie shot in their backyard. York and Chester counties have played host to a number of films in recent years, including "The Patriot," "Asylum," "Patriotville" and "Gospel Hill."

Shooting completed last month for "Gospel Hill," much of which was shot on locations in Rock Hill. Local residents enjoyed the brush with fame and the chance to meet well-known actors such as Danny Glover and Angela Bassett.

But a review by the state Commerce Department showed that South Carolina companies captured only 26 percent of the $15.4 million spent on goods and services, and state residents received only 10 percent of the $16.8 million in payroll on four films shot in the state. When you do the basic math, South Carolina is spending more to attract films to the state than it receives in return.

Some argue that the state benefits because film crews spend money here and share their experience with aspiring South Carolina film workers. And, of course, there are advantages that are harder to measure, such as the cultural benefits of participating in the moviemaking process.

But the purpose of these economic incentives is strictly monetary. If we are going to spend taxpayers' money to lure Hollywood to South Carolina, we want it to be profitable for the state.

If it isn't, then let the moviemakers go somewhere else.

South Carolina may be paying more in incentives to moviemakers than it is getting in return.