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Tourism funding a priority for new lieutenant governor

BY MOLLY M. FLEMING
THE JOURNAL RECORD

EDMOND – Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said he sees tourism as a front door to economic development, so he plans to use
his time in office to help get more people to the state.
One industry whose presence he wants to increase in the state is filmmaking. He's supporting Senate Bill 200,
filed by state Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. The bill would raise the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate
Program's annual rebate cap to $10 million. It's currently set at $4 million, though prior to 2016, it was $5 million.
The program is administered by the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, part of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation
Department.
Pinnell was the featured speaker Thursday at the Edmond Economic Development Authority's 2019 forecast
luncheon.
He said he thinks he'll have a better response in pushing for more money in tourism and for the Film + Music
Office since he's an elected official.
"We have not had a statewide elected official make this pitch," he said.
Film + Music Office Director Tava Sofsky said she thinks having Pinnell's support behind the change is critical.
She said that while the rebate program does encourage movies and music to be made here in the state, those
productions are brought to life by businesses.
She referenced a recent Forbes article that listed Tulsa and Oklahoma City as the top five places for young
entrepreneurs. She said young people are coming to the state, so having a higher film cap will keep them coming
here to make movies and produce music.
The program can be used for more than films, though, which is helpful with the increase in media platforms.
Award shows are now highlighting programs from Hulu, Amazon and Netflix. The increased need for content could be
beneficial to Oklahoma, she said.
"More content means there's more demand for locations with incentives and infrastructure. It's the perfect
marriage for Oklahoma," she said. "We're talking to Amazon, Nexflix, HBO, Disney, Imperative Entertainment (Martin
Scorsese's company), even Blumehouse Productions (released Get Out). Oklahoma is in more demand. But the
production companies will go where the incentives are."
In fiscal year 2018, the $4 million of incentives helped bring in about $34 million in production-related money.
And the state's filmmaking industry isn't slowing down anytime soon, she said. Productions have already qualified
for the money until 2022.
The program will give a filmmaker back 35 percent of the money spent on Oklahoma crews, equipment or other
needs during production. An additional 2 percent is available if more than $20,000 is spent using music that is
Oklahoma-made or -licensed.
The money isn't dished out until the receipts are returned and audited.
Sofsky said if the cap were raised, it would definitely be used. She said SB 200 would be a good step toward
helping the state become a top 10 state, which is the push from Gov. Kevin Stitt and his administration.
Tourism and Recreation Department Executive Director Dick Dutton said the marketing budget he has
requested for FY-2020 is his way to help get the state into the top 10. During the 2015 legislative session, the
marketing budget was cut 30 percent and capped at $5.75 million.
He's asked for an additional $3 million in FY-2020.
He said he has data that can show how money spent advertising the state's tourism opportunities creates a
positive return on investment. For example, the 2017 spring marketing campaign had a 6-1 ratio on return in local and
state tax revenue compared to spending.
He said a key part of that marketing budget is that it's used to advertise the state's 77 counties. For some more
rural counties, it's the only marketing they may get. Larger cities like Oklahoma City and Tulsa have their own tourism
bureaus.
Dutton said he's patched the marketing budget with other funds, but he can't continue to do that into 2020.
"I have a big concern about 2020," he said. "We've been supplementing the budget with one-time money from
year to year. We don't know where that money will come from at this point."
He said the more friends like Pinnell talking about the value of tourism, the better it will be for the department.
Pinnell said he thinks the area could shine by promoting its agritourism and all the driveable Route 66 miles,
which are the most in the U.S.
"My position is that tourism has a strong story," Dutton said. "We're based on data. Everything I've asked for was
based on data."

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