Delta Regional Authority Releases Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Economic Impact Assessment

March 24, 2022

New study assesses the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway’s current economic impact and capacity for economic growth within the Alabama Black Belt.

CLARKSDALE, MS – Delta Regional Authority (DRA) today released the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Economic Impact Assessment, a study produced for DRA by the South Alabama Center for Business Analytics, Real Estate and Economic Development (SABRE), with support and guidance from DRA. The assessment provides an evaluation of the importance of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway within the Alabama Black Belt region, including recommendations for key stakeholders such as policymakers and economic development practitioners.

"The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Economic Impact Assessment highlights the importance this critical piece of transportation infrastructure is to the Alabama Black Belt," said DRA Federal Co-Chairman Dr. Corey Wiggins. "The assessment identifies the potential economic impact within the region when workforce gaps are filled in industries focused on waterway maintenance and operations, and DRA will utilize these findings to continue to strategically invest in projects and programs addressing these capacity needs."

SABRE supplemented data reporting by creating a regional Digital Atlas and through multiple dynamic, user-interactive electronic dashboards, and analyzed data using four methodologies:

  1. Economic Impact Assessment examined industries linked to the waterway and the movement of people and freight.
  2. Environmental Housing Impact Assessment examined the impact of housing proximity to Black Belt waterways and waterbodies.
  3. Wastewater and Infrastructure Assessment examined utility systems and capacities and their relationship to future Black Belt economic growth.
  4. Watershed and Ecosystem Assessment examined existing Black Belt land uses and water quality of the Black Belt’s waterways and waterbodies.

The assessment offers several key insights including:

  • The Black Belt regional economy is small relative to Alabama, comprising only 5.2% of the state’s gross regional product.
  • Total potential economic impacts from filling Import Gaps in 74 industries focused on waterway maintenance and operations, including warehousing, distribution, logistics, and transportation functions, and on recreation and tourism support 725 jobs, add $25.3 million in wages, create $34.5 million in new value, produce $86.4 million in new revenues, and generate $11.1 million in new state and local taxes.
  • Black Belt residents perceive the proximity to minor tributaries as an economic-financial benefit, equating to approximately $29,000 per household, and average aggregate economic financial benefits are potentially as high as $722,512.
  • The potential social cost of water quality degradation is $5,065 per mile of impaired waterway per household.
  • While affordable and reliable cable and DSL broadband services are generally only available in the region’s few urban areas, broadband internet service is available only to other areas via far less reliable satellite services.
  • Only 50% of Black Belt residents have access to municipal managed wastewater services, indicating a need for municipal system expansions or upgrades and decentralized wastewater cluster systems of individual onsite wastewater treatment systems.
  • Wilcox, Choctaw, Greene, and Clarke Counties offer several miles of unimpaired surface water with high designated use tiers and little land disturbance and thus could provide enhanced economic development leveraging the region’s many high-quality surface waters.

For more information on the Delta Research initiative and to read the full report, visit


About the Delta Regional Authority

Delta Regional Authority (DRA) is a federal-state partnership created by Congress in 2000 to promote and encourage the economic development of the lower Mississippi River Delta and Alabama Black Belt.  DRA invests in projects supporting transportation infrastructure, basic public infrastructure, workforce training, and business development.  DRA’s mission is to help create jobs, build communities, and improve the lives of those who reside in the 252 counties and parishes of the eight-state region.

About the South Alabama Center for Business Analytics, Real Estate & Economic Development

Housed within the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell College of Business, the South Alabama Center for Business Analytics, Real Estate and Economic Development (SABRE) serves as the Gulf Coast Region’s leading information source for business, economic, and real estate market activity.  SABRE conducts extensive business and economic analysis and research in support of the decision- and policy-making processes of businesses, governmental entities, and non-profit organizations.  SABRE actively seeks to build strategic public and private partnerships to promote growth and development of the Gulf Coast Region.

DRA Media Contact:
Shawna Blair