Hollywood jobs come to Michigan

As employment prospects in the area dwindle, a new industry offers hope for job seekers like Neal Garron.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

neal_garron.03.jpg
After two years of unemployment, Neal Garron is now a boom operator on the TV show, The Wannabes, a sitcom being filmed in Howell, Michigan.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Getting a job in this economy is tough everywhere, but some local job markets are faring worse than others. And nowhere is it harder to find a job than in Michigan.

Michigan leads the nation in unemployment, with a statewide rate of 15.2%. Joblessness is even higher in cities like Detroit where the local unemployment rate is 17%.

For a long time Neal Garron was one of Michigan's many unemployed. A husband and father of four, Garron, 40, had worked as an assistant in a recording studio making $9 an hour until he was laid off nearly two years ago.

Garron struggled to find another job and even considered starting his own business. "I thought I would start a small little studio in my house but nothing really came of it," he said.

In the meantime, his wife Shelly worked two jobs to make ends meet. Then Garron heard a few advertisements on the radio for opportunities in the emerging film and entertainment industry in his area.

Thanks to generous tax incentives, many filmmakers have been encouraged to come to Michigan, bringing lot of film and television jobs with them. Programs like the ones at the Center for Film Studies and Film Industry Training help local job seekers learn the skills they need to be competitive for those jobs.

Using a loan from his wife's 401(k), Garron signed up for a two-week course. It was a big gamble, but one that Garron was confident would pay off. His program led to a series of internships and also valuable contacts.

"It's not like getting a job at a factory or something like that," Garron explained. "It's a who-you-know business."

After the producer of an upcoming television show contacted him, Garron landed a job as a boom operator on set. Now he makes $31 an hour working full-time filming the show's first season. Plans are in the works to shoot a second season after that.

Garron is working toward getting into the sound union, which could lead to more on-location audio jobs, and his wife has scaled back her hours somewhat. She still puts in overtime, but now it's to get ahead rather than stay afloat.

"We've never gotten anywhere with our bills and now we're paying bills off," Garron said. "It's wonderful, stuff that we've dreamed about doing, we're doing."

According to career experts in Michigan, there are budding opportunities in the area, thanks to an increasing number of film projects there.

"Michigan has been gaining a lot of film projects based on tax breaks that have been offered" explained Janet Beckstrom, owner of Word Crafter, a résumé service in Flint, Mich. And with that have come job opportunities, she added.

For job seekers interested in pursuing that path, Career Coach Deborah Schuster, who owns The Lettersmith in Troy, Mich., recommends identifying transferable skills for starters. For example, construction workers could have many skills related to set building.

Schuster says applicants interested in switching industries should streamline their résumé to keep it relevant to their goal. "Leave out things that are irrelevant and focus on things that are," she said.

Before trying to obtain additional skills, Schuster cautions job seekers about signing up for a training course and paying a fee. She encourages doing the research to ensure it is legitimate and worthwhile.

Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, suggests going to Michiganfilmoffice.org to find workshops, training programs and seminars from licensed providers and Michigan.gov/jobs for links to job postings and information on job training and career fairs. To top of page

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