Rivers are key to local economy

Published 11:38 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A recent study shows that the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is a driving economic force not only in the immediate region but also nationally.

Specifically, the waterway has brought more than 8,000 jobs and more than $16 million to Alabama since 1996. Most recently CTCO Shipyard of Alabama LLC set up shop at the Demopolis Airport Industrial Park.

“The waterways and Demopolis position in relation through them will certainly be a large part of any future industrial growth,” mayor Mike Grayson said. “I was at a meeting of the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association recently, and I left there as fired up about our potential than I’ve been about anything.”

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Grayson said the city’s growth potential could be relative to the growth at the Port of Mobile, which is quickly becoming a navigable waterway boon for the state.

“With Demopolis access to rail, with our access to major ports, we’re an attractive package to industry,” Grayson said. “If the proposed corridor that connects north Alabama to Mobile, a portion of which would come through or near Demopolis, that’s just icing on the cake.”

The Tombigbee waterway serves the four-state region of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee by providing the connecting waterway route between Mid-America and the Port of Mobile as well as new international trading partners.

“With thousands of jobs directly created and billions in private investment since 1996, the waterway has certainly proven to have been a wise investment for Alabama, the region, and the Nation,” said Mike Tagert, administrator of the four-state compact.

Researchers from Troy University and the University of Tennessee began the study in 2007 to assess the economic benefits of the waterway since 1995, the last year in which an assessment was conducted.

Tax revenue, labor income, job creation and total economic impact were analyzed.

The findings of the study are significant. Since 1996, the region has realized over 29,000 jobs directly created and a national economic impact of $43 billion due to the existence and usage of the waterway.

Nearly as many additional jobs have been indirectly created due to industry-to-industry transactions related to the waterway. The labor income resulting from these created jobs, during this time period, is estimated to be $7 billion.

Federal and state tax revenues alone equate to $2.9 billion, far exceeding the original cost of constructing the waterway.

The study also cited that the presence of the waterway provides significant shipping savings each year.

Notably, the study found that the amount of tonnage moving on the waterway is equivalent to an additional 284,000 trucks per year that might otherwise move on our highway and interstate road system.

High fuel costs and congestion within traditional routes continue to highlight the advantages of the Tenn-Tom and waterborne transportation. The study substantiates the original goals of constructing the waterway by showing that it has proven to be a tremendous resource for economic development and transportation.

With changing trade routes, growth at the Port of Mobile, and the expansion of the Panama Canal, the Tenn-Tom is uniquely positioned for increased trade with Latin America and new international markets.

For more information on waterborne transportation or the Tenn-Tom Waterway, contact the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority.