St. Louis County weighs television, film investments this week

On Tuesday at its meeting in Duluth, the board will begin to consider using economic development reserves to support film production in the Northland.

The board will take up a pair of resolutions during its committee of the whole meeting — one measure that would give $150,000 to the assist the Upper Minnesota Film Office as it looks to become an independent agency, and a second that would create a $1 million fund used to reimburse up to 25% of dollars spent by productions within St. Louis County.

The Upper Minnesota Film Office serves as a single point of contact for film productions in the Northland. In a letter to the board seeking support last week, it said it was “experiencing unprecedented demand for its services from productions seeking to spend their money and create jobs in St. Louis County.”

“Creating a fully operational UMFO would allow economic development opportunities that are knocking on our door to be realized,” the letter said.

The film office, established in 1996, currently falls under the umbrella of the Northspan Group, a business and community development organization based in Duluth. The film office is seeking to establish itself as a nonprofit group. Northspan supports the move, the film group’s letter said.

“If successful, UMFO feels that it could further accelerate the region for the filming of movies, documentaries, commercials, and related video media productions as a year round destination and thus providing additional jobs, wages, benefits, and peripheral growth in the County and region,” the county board letter recommending the funding said.

The county has previously supported the film office in the amount of $20,000. The proposal would use $150,000 from its current available Economic Development Fund balance of $511,928. Funding provided by the county would be used for legal fees, personnel and operating costs.

In a separate vote to establish a film incentive, the County Board will look to create a new $1 million fund aimed at luring film production to the county.

Funding to any given project would be provided at the conclusion of filming. The county would reimburse up to 25% of a project’s production costs. Reimbursable costs must be incurred from involving local workers, companies, hotels or restaurants.

“Even with the establishment of the program now or in the near future, significant use of the program would not be expected to take place for a period of time due to the length of time necessary to coordinate production locations,” a county board letter said. “The establishment of the program now is to begin the marketing and messaging necessary to promote its availability.”

Currently, county economic development funds do not have enough funds available to provide the seed money for the program, the board letter said, and the board will need to consider the transfer of other county funds into its Economic Development Fund in order to establish it.

The goal is to be able to announce the program officially as part of a Catalyst Content Festival event planned for mid-October, the board letter said.

Catalyst Content Festival is “an industry marketplace for independently produced episodic programming,” that moved to Duluth in 2019. It has connections to Hollywood, New York and industry insiders worldwide, and has scheduled its next live festival for Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2021, in Duluth.

If the measures pass, the County Board will consider final approval at its following meeting Oct. 13.

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