Film industry: ‘Biggest economic impact since Hartsfield’
by Clay Neely - firstname.lastname@example.org
"The growing film industry will be the biggest catalyst for economic growth in the south metro area since Hartsfield,” predicted Matt Forshee, chairman of the President/CEO at Fayette County Development Authority.
Forshee, along with an assortment of other representatives, spoke on behalf of the burgeoning economic growth and possibilities at the 2014 South Metro Development Outlook conference held in College Park on Wednesday.
The discussion of the growing film industry in the south metro Atlanta area — which includes Coweta — sparked a flurry of flashing cameras and questions from the audience. Forshee shed a light on the impact that Pinewood Studios is currently having on the area and is projected to have in the future.
“We spent four years trying to determine how we could grow the film industry in our area but also just trying to understand the industry in general,” said Forshee. “It’s like no other.”
“We want to have a home for major film activity. We have office spaces, set pieces and a town square. Our first phase is over 100,000 square feet of sound stage. We have top groups coming in from Los Angeles that say ‘there is nothing like this in Los Angeles, it’s so modern,’” he said.
According to Forshee, the economic impact for the south metro region is enormous, having determined that for every million spent in a budget, there are 8.5 people hired.
“When you’re talking about filming seven films a year, do the math,” said Forshee. “The amount is staggering.”
A member of the audience asked Forshee how he is helping the community in terms of additional educational training.
“From our aspect, education is a huge piece of the picture,” said Forshee. “We’re working diligently on expanding our workforce. We have currently surpassed the ability to fill these kinds of jobs with the existing talent pool in Georgia so we’re importing from out of state. So the big question is, ‘How can we train Georgians to do these kinds of jobs?’”
“Major things are happening now in this current legislative session,” said Forshee. “Southern Crescent has launched several training programs. A lot of that is, we had the cart before the horse. Now we need training. Pinewood purchased 750 acres across the street. Their goal is to convert the existing elementary school that is currently being used as their offices into a film training school. “
According to Forshee, Fayette County is currently working on creating a pilot program in order to develop career readiness. “We want kids training today that they can use their skill sets immediately,” said Forshee. “We need folks ready to go today.”
Grant Wainscott, director for Clayton County Economic Development, also spoke on the impact that the film industry is having on not only jobs but for education.
“Clayton State is in the process of opening 10,000-square-foot film studio in the Jonesboro area and we will have job training,” said Wainscott. “It’s hard to go to the education community and say, ‘We need to spend a lot of money on jobs we think are coming.’ You have to create the demand. So, for us, the workforce readiness is extremely important because we want to employ every single Georgian possible. We don’t want to import talent.”
Wainscott noted that the community is seeing a return of the talent that initially left for Los Angeles now returning back home.
“They’re from our area and they have a soft spot in their hearts for the south side,” said Wainscott.
Forshee believes that the biggest benefactors of the expanding film industry are the small business owners.
“Most of the production that comes on is contract work,” said Forshee. “It runs the gamut from landscaping to special effects — it’s across the board. For small business owners, it’s intellectual capital for many of them.”
“Traditional businesses are adjusting their business model to accommodate the industry,” said Forshee.
According to Wainscott, the Georgia government sees the impact that the film industry is having on the state and has no plans to tamper with any of the existing tax credits.
Also speaking toward entertainment and prosperity working together in the south metro area was Fulton County Commissioner Bill Edwards.
Edwards spoke specifically to the challenges and rewards in regards to the undertaking of the TomorrowWorld music festival, which was held last year in the Chattahoochee Hills area.
“When someone says they want to do something completely different in your area, you’re a bit suspicious. When they’re coming from Belgium, then you’re really suspicious,” laughed Edwards.
“Believe me, you’ve never seen permitting challenges until you’re dealing with 100-foot stages with lights and bombs,” said Edwards. “When they told us that over 100,000 people would attending the festival, I flew off the chain. But out of all the places they looked around the entire country, they chose to come to South Fulton. So we’re very appreciative.”
Edwards noted that it took the cooperation of the entire neighboring communities to make the festival happen.
“It was a momentous undertaking, but we did it and we did it well. The organizers were so impressed that we signed a contract with them for 10 more years,” said Edwards.
Also attending the conference was Lisa Smith, manager of Georgia Power’s Newnan office.
“I think it’s great to hear about what’s going on in all the different areas so you can get the big picture so that you can partner, network and meet other people,” said Smith. “It’s been wonderful.”
The South Metro Development Outlook conference convenes professionals with an interest in fostering smart growth in the southern crescent, and highlights Atlanta and seven area counties: Clayton, Coweta, Douglas, Fayette, Henry, Spalding and South Fulton.
SMDO consistently features highly acclaimed speakers providing invaluable information relevant to south metro’s continued growth and today’s ever changing economy. Other program participants include elected officials from the seven-county region.