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Onondaga County Makes $5M In Rebates Available To Film, TV, Commercial Producers To Be Competitive, Boost Local Economy

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Scott Willis
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon is flanked by County Film Commissioner Eric Vinal, left, and CNY Arts Executive Stephen Butler at the Redhouse.

Onondaga County is trying to capitalize on its growing film and entertainment industry by using $5 million in federal COVID relief funds to incentivize more productions to take place here. The program would offer rebates on local spending during pre-, principal, and post production for film, television, and large commercial advertising campaigns. County Executive Ryan McMahon says it not only creates some buzz in the industry, it also helps the arts, hospitality, and restaurant sectors hurt badly by the pandemic.

"Film drives room nights and spending in these areas. We're proud of the work that's been done. We believe this will give us a competitive advantage, and will give us a sales tool to talk to more production houses and get more economic activity in our community."

Applicants must meet minimum budget requirements, and perform 70% of their production within the county. CNY Arts executive director Stephen Butler says each application will go through a transparent vetting process.

"The project is turned over to our auditors who are professionals in the industry from around the country who review the project to make sure that it's viable, and perhaps make some suggestions. Remember, we're trying to get everyone to a 'yes' because we're encouraging the production here."

Butler says once another panel considers and verifies creativity capacity and impact on local economy, it goes back to Onondaga County for a final review before a rebate is issued. Applicants are eligible for up to 25% rebates on lodging, meal, transportation, set construction, and retail expenses. Companies can also get up to an additional 5% rebate if they hire people from under-represented communities, including veterans, those with disabilities, and minority gender, race, or ethnic groups.

McMahon says things have changed since the earlier struggle to attract production companies a few years ago.

"Now that that ecosystem has developed, we understand our sweet spot, our niche in the marketplace. When we're competing, what makes us a little bit different? This incentive does. What does it incentivize? It incentivizes hiring local people. It incentivizes spending money here locally."

McMahon says the county will always make investments in arts, culture, tourism, and conventions that generate sales tax revenue and fund county operations. He hopes the $5 million rebate fund will deliver a $15 to $20 million impact.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at