Tulsa's Port of Catoosa: Moving Goods from America's Heartland
Tulsa, Oklahoma's Port of Catoosa provides a centrally-located logistics hub on the McClellan-Kerr Waterway.
Area Development Research Desk on behalf of Tulsa Metro Chamber (September 2010)

Editors Note: This article is Contributed Content, authored by Area Development and paid for by the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Tulsa's Port of Catoosa is the nation's most inland port, providing efficient, multimodal logistics service to global destinations.

Those in the logistics industry tell us the inbound volume of goods manufactured abroad continues to escalate, as U.S. demand for imported goods increases. To accommodate this rise in global imports, the industry is shifting more to an "inland port" model, where inbound goods are quickly off-loaded from ships and moved to inland distribution centers for subsequent handling and redistribution within the country.

Inland ports - especially those situated at the intersection of multiple shipping routes with several modes of transportation, including high-density rail, intermodal facilities, and interstate highways - are gaining in importance. Additionally, the best inland locations also support large flexible buildings and have extensive parking for containers and trailers, as well as easy access to developed transportation infrastructures.

One of the Nation's Most Inland Ports
The Tulsa Port of Catoosa - one of the largest, most inland river-ports in the United States - would appear to have all of the above attributes. It is located at the head of navigation for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System - a 440-mile waterway linking Oklahoma and the surrounding five-state area with ports on the nation's 25,000-mile inland waterway system, and foreign and domestic ports beyond by way of New Orleans and the Gulf Intracoastal waterway. And, because of its south-central location, the waterway is operational year-round, regardless of weather conditions.

"We still have people in our own state that, while they know we exist, they don't understand exactly what we do," says Bob Portiss, the port's director. "When we talk about Oklahoma having more miles of shoreline than the East Coast and West Coast combined, people really take note."

Aside from its location advantages, the port combines a manufacturing center, a foreign-trade zone, and a multimodal transportation center, making it the ideal location for both national and international companies. It offers a full complement of Class I railroads, highway, and airfreight systems - all in one centrally located area. The port is just one day's drive from Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Omaha, and St. Louis. And with major highways like the east/west I-44 and I-40 corridors and the north/south I-35 "NAFTA" corridor, trucking products to or from national and international destinations is easy and efficient.

"Where else can you get rail, truck, barge, and air just 15 minutes away, all under one roof?" Portiss asks. "Generally we can guarantee our industries a couple of railroad switches a day. That's unheard of."

An Industrial Component
Additionally, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa is a 2,000-acre industrial park and multimodal shipping complex. There are 63 industrial facilities within the port that employ approximately 4,000 people involved in manufacturing, distribution, and processing of products ranging from agricultural commodities to manufactured consumer goods. Its public and private terminals serve grain, dry bulk, breakbulk, and bulk liquids. And large volume is no problem. In fact, customers send and receive over 2.2 million tons of cargo each year by barge, rail, and truck.

Richard Grenville, the port's director of logistics and business development, underscores the port's advantages for large, bulky, and oversized shipments: "The cost of shipping a bushel of grain from Catoosa to New Orleans is less than what you'd pay for a first class stamp," Grenville says. Although each barge holds 1,500 tons of grain, the service is still a savings compared to trucking or other methods.

Economic Impact
The port also has a significant economic impact on the Tulsa area. Portiss estimates the annual payroll at more than $140 million. Approximately $600 million worth of cargo moves through the port each year, and total economic impact is about $300 million annually. "It's an unanticipated, unexpected component to our economic development effort," says Jim Fram, senior vice president of economic development for the Tulsa Metro Chamber, adding, "It gives us an asset a lot of our competitors don't have."

Its numerous advantages have drawn companies to lease facilities at the port's industrial park. (The port does not sell land to ensure that it will remain a central access point "for generations to come," Portiss says.) Among these is Heater Specialists, a maker of large equipment for the energy industry, which occupies 10 acres and has made the port its permanent home. It ships its products from Catoosa to global locations.

Banking on the region's grains heritage and the port's grain elevator, the Port of Catoosa sought grain companies for tenants. Kansas City, Missouri-based DeBruce Grain, one of the largest privately-owned grain companies, chose the port and ships dry bulk fertilizer and grain from Catoosa.

And when GM auto parts supplier Delphi declared bankruptcy, the port scouted Belgian materials technology company Umicore to take over the vacant facility, which is now more efficient than when the company moved in.

While the recession has affected business (employment levels dropped by 1,000 workers after the downturn), the port's business diversity continues to propel it. It also expects the Panama Canal expansion to boost traffic, as Gulf of Mexico ports become congested. According to Grenville, "Catoosa will have an ideal hub into places like Wichita, Oklahoma City, even areas west of Oklahoma that are poorly served in transport right now."

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