A day after the news that Netflix is meeting film production benchmarks in Albuquerque, the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners approved money to boost film and television efforts in Las Cruces.
The county approved $70,000 in economic development funding for Film Las Cruces, the region’s film office and industry liaison.
District 3 County Commissioner Shannon Reynolds also serves on the Film Las Cruces board.
“It’s an opportunity for us to work in partnership again with the City of Las Cruces in order to improve the economic development investments that we have here in the City and to attract a new industry that we haven’t had here before. So, with this partnership we expect that we’re going to possibly capture a studio that actually wants to move here permanently and do film from Las Cruces as a hub. That’s our goal." Reynolds said.
Film Las Cruces President and State Sen. Jeff Steinborn said the money pays for the staff and resources needed to recruit productions to southern New Mexico.
“We do the permitting, Film Las Cruces, for the City and the county. We also help scout locations for films that are thinking of coming here and just solve a myriad of production problems that they have while they’re here," Steinborn said. "So, it’s necessary to have staff and resources to do that and Las Cruces, fortunately while we’ve created this, are only funded about half the level of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. So, the funding from the county really helps just have a presence and do the work that we need to do to create these jobs.”
Some of that work is featured in the upcoming film “Walking with Herb” and 2018's “The Mule.” The Clint Eastwood production spent less than a week in Las Cruces but had an economic impact of $1.3 million, according to data from the Motion Picture Association of America.
For every dollar film companies spend directly on production, New Mexico refunds a quarter–and some television shows are eligible for 30 cents back.
The legislature more than doubled the state’s yearly film incentive cap from $50 million to $110 million. Steinborn introduced an amendment that gives an additional five percent back to companies that film outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Without those incentives, Reynolds and Steinborn said companies will shoot elsewhere.
“What we're doing is we're brining film production that would not come here otherwise. Make no mistake, without New Mexico’s film incentive program, we would not have a billion-dollar film industry that employees thousands of people, that helps small businesses across the gamut and so what we’re doing is helping to create a workforce that can stay here in Las Cruces rather than move on to Austin, to Albuquerque, to Santa Fe and form a creative economic here which is extremely desirable for Las Cruces," Steinborn said.
Direct spending by the film and TV industries in New Mexico totaled more than half a billion dollars in fiscal year 2019. While about two-thirds of states provide film incentives, some critics say that New Mexico’s subsidy of up to $110 million a year is exorbitant compared with its low population and high poverty rate.
But Reynolds said he would like to see the cap raised even higher.
“I would even see that taking it from 50 to 110 [million], I’d like to see them take it to 200 if the demand’s there to bring in that kind of revenue, additional revenue and maybe even get more companies to actually spend full-time here making movies. I think it’s a great investment," Reynolds said. "Yes, absolutely. I think an increase in the cap is necessary if in fact we can get, like you said, the return on the investment and it looks like we are. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be hitting our $50 million cap.”
Elected officials also hope the industry will help local graduates find employment–and Steinborn said building the workforce can also attract more productions to the state.
“This is an industry where we have a shot at keeping some of our best and brightest here in this community through that phase of their life, planting roots here in this community and in so doing create a more diverse economy than just a service-sector economy," Steinborn said. "So, I think it’s a very strategic industry and the reality is in today’s world, communities have to invest to create jobs and this industry is no different than that and Las Cruces is making some of those strategic investments, the county did today as well.”
But other elected officials aren't convinced.
In an Albuquerque Journal column, Republican State Sen. James White said the film industry is inefficient at creating jobs and nearly every industry could expand if “the state subsidized 25% to 30% of its operating costs.”