In the late 1930's, before construction of the Norfork Dam had begun, the local economy of Baxter County, Arkansas was deteriorating. The yearly per capita income had fallen to between one-hundred and two-hundred dollars, and in 1940 alone more than six hundred small farms were abandoned. Those who remained looked forward with enthusiasm to any solution that promised relief from their economic problems. Mountain Home, Arkansas, then the largest community, was described as having no prospect for new business and very few paved roads. When construction of the dam finally began in the spring of 1941 it was said that, "before the first shovel of dirt was thrown, or the first tree dozed down, the Mountain Home people knew that a new era had dawned" United States, History of the Corps of Engineers. As the largest nearby community, Mountain Home was to derive the most spectacular benefit for the Corps projects in the area. Centrally located between both Norfork and Bull Shoals Dam, few of its citizens could foresee the economic change Norfork Dam would bring to the poor agricultural community (Messick).
Clyde T. Ellis, who defeated Claude Fuller in 1938 to become the representative for the third district, envisioned a smaller Arkansas version of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Ellis made Norfork Dam his personal project and fought for it until construction began in the spring of 1941. Having won the election with the promise of cheap hydroelectricity, he hoped the dams would give rise to industry and lift the region out of the depths of depression. Ellis firmly believed that if Norfork Dam was built then the other dams would follow. Authorization for construction of the dam was included as part of the flood control act of June 28, 1938. Norfork Dam was to be one of six dams built to accomplish flood control in the White River basin. The act was later revised in 1941 to include Bull Shoals and Table Rock.