Special Economic Programs

Special programs were implemented during construction to help increase regional economic benefits. The waterway region was one of the most economically depressed sections of the nation at that time. Moreover, many of these counties are rural and some have majority populations of minorities. Many of the waterway residents had no working experience or skills in heavy construction crafts.

Some unprecedented measures were undertaken to help insure that the lives of these economically deprived people were improved by the waterway’s construction. For example, a local hiring preference clause was included in each construction contract that required the contractor to attempt to hire as much of his work force as possible from within a 50-mile radius of the waterway.

A very progressive minority hiring program was instituted that included employment goals for each construction craft. A separate program with specific goals was also established for female workers. To meet these ambitious objectives, intensive job training efforts were implemented, including a unique worker-trainee program that required the close cooperation of the affected trade unions, the contractors and the Corps of Engineers.

These social programs were very successful. Construction of the waterway required 25 million man-hours of labor. About 85 percent of these workers came from the waterway corridor. At the end of construction, the work force included 33 percent minorities and nearly 5 percent female workers. Also, nearly $450 million of work was subcontracted to minority firms.

Because of these successes, the Carter Administration selected the Tenn-Tom as a national demonstration project of how to maximize local economic impacts of a large public works project built in a rural area.

These programs not only accomplished socio-economic objectives, but they also precluded the typical “boon and bust” conditions generally experienced when large projects are built in sparsely populated areas that do not have the infrastructure or services to support a large influx of workers.