ATLANTA – Georgia is losing income-generating concerts and theatrical productions to other states with richer tax incentives, performing arts venue managers and music industry advocates told state lawmakers Thursday.
“We all support music,” Mala Sharma, president of Georgia Music Partners, the state’s leading music industry advocacy organization, told members of a legislative study committee looking for ways to grow the industry in the Peach State. “We need to bet on it now.”
The General Assembly passed legislation in 2017 providing tax incentives to musical productions, including both live and recorded performances. The bill was modeled after state tax incentives to the film industry that have played a key role in Georgia becoming a leading center for movie and TV production.
But Georgia’s music industry tax incentives have proven weak compared to incentives offered by other states, Sharma said.
“We were leapfrogged when Tennessee and other states … perfected their music incentives,” she said.
Josh Small, general manager of the $33 million Columbia County Performing Arts Center, which opened earlier this year in Evans, said the new facility lost a musical production to Louisiana despite featuring the latest amenities that make it easy to stage productions there.
“The producer would rather have used us,” he said. “They would have come here if we had the tax credit.”
Norm Easterbrook, executive director of the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, said the producer of a national tour of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was negotiating with the RiverCenter but went to New York state instead because it had better tax incentives.
Easterbrook said requirements in Georgia’s current music tax incentives that producers spend a certain amount of money and run productions for a certain length of time to qualify for the tax break are making it difficult for smaller venues around the state to land quality productions. Those 2017 tax incentives are due to expire at the end of this year.
“We’re asking for these adjustments so we can have an economic development tool,” Easterbrook said.
Easterbrook said there’s also a quality-of-life element to being able to stage musical productions in Georgia.
“It makes a top-drawer production that’s going to tour the country available to our cities at an affordable cost,” he said.
In addition to improving its tax incentives, Georgia also would benefit by creating a state office to support the music industry, said Brendon Anthony, who directs the Texas Music Office in Austin.
The four-person agency was formed as a standalone operation back in 1991 but didn’t really take off until it was put under the governor’s office and later under that state’s economic development and tourism operation.
Anthony said research compiled by his office has generated economic impact data that shows the benefits a vibrant music industry brings to a state.
The office also has launched a “music-friendly community” program that helps cities network with each other to promote their music venues. Every city in Texas with a population of more than 1 million is participating in the program, he said.
“We are lucky to have an office like ours,” he said. “We continue to affect how our industry operates in large ways.”
The study committee will hold one more meeting this fall before formulating its recommendations for the full General Assembly to consider during the 2023 legislative session beginning in January.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.