State economic development officials want to show the might of the state incentive program to lure motion picture production to Utah.

The ultimate goal is to perhaps tweak the program to lure bigger-budget film work to the state.

Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, told the legislature's Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee this week that determining film production economic impacts is more elusive than traditional economic development incentives to lure companies to Utah.

"With motion pictures, it's not quite as easy, because it's not just a straight benefit into the income, sales and withholding tax (accounts)," he said. "Sometimes it's the tax from the heads on the (hotels) pillows or from the crews that you're hiring around the state, the restaurants that are used, the caterers, the trucks, the water — all of those kinds of things go into a film, which are a true benefit to the state of Utah but not the easiest thing to calculate."

Perry said he "wants to prove the value" of the Motion Picture Incentive Fund, in which legislative allocations are divvied up to production companies in the form of a tax rebate for a portion of their spending in Utah. To be eligible, applicant productions must spend $1 million in Utah, but no production can get back more than $500,000, and that is too small to lure big-budget films to the state, he said.

"The issue for us right now is $500,000 for a $15 (million) to $20 million movie is not compelling," Perry said. "We're in the sweet spot for the $10 million films, which is really great for us."

But when the Legislature took no action on the film incentives program, "we lost five motion pictures that were just waiting to see what would happen during this past session," he said.

"We really want to lay the stage for us to get those films here in the state of Utah. We know we can prove the benefit to the state," he said, noting that a group of economists have estimated a return of $10 to $15 for every dollar used from the fund.

Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, said she believes luring film productions benefits the local economy. "I think they strengthen those communities where they come. I'm really excited to study this item this year and to look at taking that next step to taking greater advantage of this."

Perry said the Governor's Office of Economic Development also wants to boost the amount of skilled and trained workers in Utah, and he encouraged the committee to study whether money for Custom Fit Training, a program administered by higher-education officials, is being used effectively.

"I will tell you, from my seat, the No. 1 issue affecting our economy for the coming year is the skilled, trained work force," Perry told the committee. "Our net in-migration patterns are significant, but we need more people working here in the state of Utah."

When GOED undertook a program to lure engineers to the state, "it became very apparent that the training for a skilled labor force is more important than it has ever been for the state of Utah," Perry said.

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