Andrew Ralston might be called the pied piper of the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, except his favored instrument is the string bass.
And, while Ralston does hope to lure new tenants to the port in the coming year, his proficiency as a jazz musician is not likely to be the attraction. Besides the existing facilities north of Catoosa, the port authority is expanding by nearly 2,000 acres and hopes to get the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System back in full operation after last spring’s flooding.
Ralston is the port’s economic development officer, a position he assumed in August 2018 after five years with the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
His real roots, though, are in music.
A native of Joplin, Missouri, Ralston majored in music education at Missouri Southern University and sold musical instruments for about a decade before venturing into economic development with the Tulsa Chamber.
“I was looking for a new challenge,” Ralston said. “Sales and customer service is, for the most part, what we do in economic development. It’s making sure to take care of the customer.”
At the current port, Ralston’s “customers” include about 70 companies with 3,200 employees on 2,000 acres. That footprint is in the process of doubling, though, because of electric utility PSO’s decision to transfer most of its Inola River-Rail site to the port authority.
Originally intended to be the location of PSO’s Black Fox nuclear plant, a project southwest of Inola abandoned in 1982, the tract comes with a major tenant — paper manufacturer Sofidel, which is finishing up a new $360 million plant.
Ralston said the first priority is upgrading the railroad facilities on the new site. A barge slip built to off-load nuclear reactors and other materials will probably have to be rebuilt, he said.
“Even now we have some (potential tenants) looking,” he said. “When we get the rail up and running, we should have more. We’re hoping in 12 to 16 months we’ll be operational.”
Ralston said silting from last year’s flooding has slowed traffic on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and it may be a while before the channel is fully dredged.
Nevertheless, he said, the port complex remains busy.
“Not all the companies at the port use the waterway,” Ralston said, and noted most freight to or from the port travels by freight or truck.
Ralston, by the way, hasn’t completely given up his old life. Those who want to hear him play the bass instead of make an economic development pitch can catch him at venues such as Duets and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, thumping out the low notes with the jazz/swing group Zuits.