Global supply chain delays, container ship traffic jams, and modern-day train robberies are just some of the stories making headlines in recent weeks. As a result, the Nation’s focus has been drawn to freight logistics and containerized shipping. Dewey F. Bartlett, Jr., Chairman of the City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority, says that attention is a good thing for inland waterways and both of the Tulsa Ports, which has locations in Catoosa and Inola.
In 2021, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa celebrated its 50th anniversary, as did the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS), the inland waterway that connects Tulsa to the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and thereby the world shipping sea lanes. Events and activities occurred throughout last year to highlight and celebrate the Port’s 50th birthday. But, if 2021 was a year to reflect on the amazing history of Oklahoma’s maritime shipping industry and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, 2022 begins an era of engineering the future of goods transportation, industrial development, and other new opportunities.
Near the end of 2019, the Port Authority acquired 2,200 acres of industrial property just 18 river miles from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. This historic partnership with Public Service Company of Oklahoma began the groundwork to establish a new industrial site and inland waterway port. The newly christened “Tulsa Port of Inola” offers contiguous land sites of up to 1,500 acres with utility capacities, population proximity, and transportation connections that will support large-scale industrial and economic development projects. In 2021, Tulsa Ports completed master planning for the Tulsa Port of Inola that assessed all the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities that this location could provide. Now, the Tulsa Ports along with its partner organizations, will invest in railroad and wastewater infrastructure to continue eliminating barriers to growth. Based on the targeted industries the Tulsa Ports are pursuing for this site, up to 12,000 jobs could be based at the Tulsa Port of Inola in the future.
Back at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, new companies are beginning operations and others are expanding. The Port Authority remains busy keeping up with the challenges of replacing older roads and infrastructure. Chairman Bartlett reports that over $6 million worth of major renovations to roadways and railroads has occurred during the last year or is currently in progress. “It is one of our goals that the Tulsa Port of Catoosa maintain its reputation as one of the most modern, and best maintained inland ports in the nation, but it takes a lot of continual work and investment,” said Bartlett. Since the Tulsa Ports are not funded by tax dollars but by the money derived from operations and land leases, those investments are carefully planned and implemented. “We also benefit from great partnerships with the City of Tulsa, Rogers County, and the State of Oklahoma. These relationships are key to our continued success as an economic driver in our region,” added Bartlett.
The latest employment count at the Tulsa Ports is 2,862 persons working fulltime. New hires at the Port of Catoosa are up over 6%, representing 155 new jobs since the third quarter of last year. New and existing companies at the Port are looking to add an additional 500 jobs during the next 36 months. Bartlett said that these growing manufacturers represent industries which include food packaging, automotive parts, air-cooled heat exchangers, hydrogen transportation equipment, and other energy related fabrication. The Ports’ newest industry, Lyseon North America is poised to rapidly grow as a supplier to several U.S. electric vehicle manufacturers. “The Tulsa Ports have positioned their industrial parks (Catoosa & Inola) to be ideal locations for the growing electric vehicle industry and their suppliers, as well as a welcome location for foreign direct investment. As Chairman of the Tulsa Ports’ Board of Directors and the newly appointed Honorary Consul General to Japan for Oklahoma, I am excited to welcome Lyseon North America as a new addition to our 71 existing industrial employers at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa,” said Bartlett.
To assist industries in connecting with the needed workforce, the Tulsa Ports Career Center opened in 2020 in partnership with the Northeast Workforce Development Board and Resource Manufacturing. The workforce board offers programs to assist companies with on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and other programs. Resource Manufacturing offers quality candidates to manufacturing companies and assists people in getting hired by companies located at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. The Tulsa Ports Career Center is located at 5238 State Highway 167, Catoosa, OK, 74015.
The Tulsa Ports has also updated its website to include a new Careers & Education page. This page now offers a simple way for people to connect to companies that are hiring (https://tulsaports.com/careers-education/jobs/). In addition, website visitors can obtain information about free training programs for entry level manufacturing careers. The updated tulsaports.com website also gives information about how to locate your business at the Ports (Catoosa & Inola), safety information, a new virtual tour video and an activity book for students.
In late 2021, the 117th Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) and President Biden signed it into law. “Although the debate surrounding this bill was politically divisive, the passage of the IIJA brings much needed funding for the MKARNS,” said Bartlett. “Over $200 million was allocated for the United States Army Corps of Engineers to perform critical maintenance and repairs to the waterway. This is a monumental win for our system and the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas that directly benefit.”
Not only do these federal investments in the waterway ensure the reliability of navigation on the MKARNS, a system that annually moves 10 to 12 million tons by barge, but they bolster other waterway benefits, including water supply, flood control, hydropower generation, and even recreational activities like fishing and boating.
But Chairman Bartlett and the Tulsa Ports believe that one of the biggest developments to come is in containerized freight moving by barges. “It seems that everywhere you look, you see shipping containers moving by train and truck. These containers ship goods across oceans, to and from our coastal ports, and along the highways and railroad. But one place they do not move is along the MKARNS waterway. We’ve got to change that,” said Barlett. “Being at the junction of the major forms of transportation – truck, trains, and barge – we are uniquely positioned geographically to be a solution to the supply chain problems affecting our country.” Tulsa Ports is working with manufacturers and shippers to lure containers to the waterway. With the cost escalation in container movement over the last 2 years, in addition to costs driven by truckdriver shortages and the pandemic, it is becoming a more important opportunity. Additionally, many large shippers and carriers are looking to become carbon neutral, and this may also help drive container movements to the MKARNS. Bartlett said, “It’s pretty simple math. One towboat can push 12 barges on our river. Each of those barges can carry the equivalence of 60 semitrucks. That means that one towboat can replace 720 semitrucks. Think about the impact of that one boat –the reduction of emissions, the cost savings in fuel, and the elimination of truck traffic on our interstate highways.”
“My colleagues on the Port Authority Board of Directors are committed to the continued success and growth in both sites comprising Tulsa Ports, and the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. We believe that 2022 is going to be an amazing year of growth and opportunity at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, and the Tulsa Port of Inola,” said Chairman Bartlett.