If "House of Cards" folds in Maryland, will Harford County businesses feel a slump?
A number of county officials believe the hit Netflix series has brought an economic boost, not to mention free publicity, to Harford since cameras first started rolling in 2012.
Knight Takes King, the "House of Cards" production company, has been threatening to leave Maryland, citing $3.5 million in tax incentives that were left out of legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly last month.
Although no dollar estimates have been made of the production's exact economic impact to Harford, state economic development officials have estimated Maryland benefited from "House of Cards" to the tune of $138 million in the state's 2012-13 fiscal year.
In Harford, the production company, which has already received $15 million in tax credits, has leased more than 300,000 square feet for studio space in local industrial parks along Route 7 in the Joppa-Edgewood area, Harford Economic Development Director Jim Richardson said. Those credits have involved leasing, construction costs and payroll, he said.
The studio space is spread among several sites, but County Councilman Dion Guthrie said most of the interior shooting has been done out of an industrial park at Route 7 and Edgewood Road.
"It's extremely impressive," Guthrie said of the studio that he and other county officials have visited. "They have a mock-up of an Oval Office... I mean, it's incredible."
Film crews have used local businesses and hired local residents, and nearby eateries like Chicken on the Roof, on Route 40, "are getting a ton of business from them," Guthrie, who represents the area where the studios are, said.
He is among those who are hoping the "House" will not be divided.
"I am really disappointed in our administration in Annapolis, that they did not give them the tax credits," Guthrie said, adding he has "seen the county support them 100 percent."
He said the show has been a major boon "if you look at the numbers and you look at the 300-some businesses that they have worked with for supplies, electrical, all the stuff that they have done there, and they have employed over 1,000 people from the area for things they need done there."
"The comeback to the community is fantastic; it really is," he added.
The company procured goods or services from 300 Harford businesses during shooting for the show's first season in 2012 and about 276 businesses during the second season last year, according to the Maryland Film Office.
Local companies that have benefited include Arrow Electrical Supply, The Mill of Bel Air, Tractor Supply Company, Edgewood Thrift and Chesaco RV.
Production employees also spent a total of 4,600 nights in Harford hotels during season one, according to the county's economic development office.
Guthrie had not heard any more about the film company's plans as of Monday.
"Maybe it will be one of those things like when the Baltimore Colts [left town]," he joked, alluding to the football team that left for Indianapolis in the middle of the night two decades ago.
Tax credits, and film crews' increasing expectation of getting some, have become a nationwide issue
New York recently attracted NBC's "Tonight Show" back to the state with a tax break of $20 million.
"It's a competitive business," Richardson said. "Other states are after them."
The film industry has been thriving in Maryland, he noted, adding: "We had a lot of employees here in Maryland in this business."
"I know the state has [discussed] a certain amount of tax credits but it was not at the level they anticipated," Richardson said about what the legislature did.
"We would like to keep them," Richardson noted with a laugh about the film crew.
With much of the show's second season being filmed locally and spotlighting Harford sites, "we think that has some spin-off benefits," he added.
Richardson said he had been scheduled to testify on the tax credit issue in Annapolis but did not make it because of one of the snowstorms.
"We sent letters of support, but it's all about the state income tax credit, that is what the debate is about," he said.
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Harford State Sen. Barry Glassman, who supported the full tax incentive in the Senate, said threatening to leave "may have been a bargaining position."
"In a time when everybody is grappling for every little bit of economic development, we certainly don't want to lose that," Glassman, who is running for county executive, said of the film company.
"They have got a considerable investment in Harford County," he said, adding that the vote in the House of Delegates was "very close."
"I think the governor is probably going to be able to put some money up, but I think there's some negotiations," Glassman said.
"I think, from what I have read, once you develop that reputation of being able to provide those types of tax credits and bring in the movie industry, it could be lucrative," he said.
Regardless of what happens with the tax incentives, Guthrie said he hopes "House of Cards" decides to stay.
"I think it would be a substantial loss to the county and the state," he said about the possibility of the show packing its bags.