It was a milestone that could have been celebrated with all the pomp and circumstance the business community could muster.
Instead, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, their partners and guests decided to party like rockstars.
Tuesday the group celebrated the port receiving the 50,000th barge into the port since their opening.
“Because we do believe the Port of Catoosa does, in fact, rock our regional, state and even our national economy,” said Port board member Chip McElroy. “It rocks at improving jobs.”
He said, “We’re celebrating the arrival of the 50,000th barge serviced here at the Port of Catoosa since we opened in 1971.”
He introduced a series of guests who spoke of the history of the Port and the events leading up to the milestone being celebrated. First to the podium was Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum.
“Think about back in the 1940s when the Arkansas River was certainly one of our defining natural assets in this part of the state but it was also renowned for flooding. That’s certainly what we were afflicted by for years,” he said. “It was wildly unpredictable. Yet we had a brilliant governor at the time, in Robert S. Kerr, who saw that instead of just seeing a problem that had to be dealt with, saw tremendous opportunity. He saw not just the river that was there and the potential to create a series of locks and dams going all the way to the Mississippi River, but he also saw a way to unlock commerce in this part of the state by making it so much more affordable to transport goods from Oklahoma all around the world.”
Bynum said “fortunately for us” Kerr got elected to the United States Senate and worked closely with Senator McClellan to create the McClellan Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.
“I think it says a lot about how important this was, not just for us in Tulsa and Rogers County but in the nation, that you had Lyndon B. Johnson came here for the ground breaking of this. Then Richard Nixon, when he was the president, came back for the opening. Presidents of the United States recognized the importance of this facility and the potential impact it could have on commerce in this part of the country,” Bynum said. “And that’s the first part of the success story — the role government can play when it is utilized in an effective way to leverage future economic value.”
The greater success story, he said, is beyond that — in the people that have taken the lead since that time.
“We have a facility here that has had remarkable economic impact, that has created thousands of jobs, has opened up commerce and since it was built has not sought a dime from the City of Tulsa, has been entirely self-sustaining and has thrived since that time because of the people that have lead it,” Bynum said. “On behalf of the citizens of Tulsa, thank you for making this possible, for fulfilling the vision that Senator Kerr had. I’m excited about what this represents, not just for today but also moving forward. We’re just getting started.”
Rogers County Commissioner Ron Burrows spoke, too, about the history of the Port but also about the present day industries represented there.
“There are 71 industrial facilities located here in the Port. One of the biggest sectors impacted by the Port is agriculture,” Burrows said. “Each year the Port typically ships about 30 million tons of wheat and soybeans and is a vital component in getting goods to market for farmers in the Oklahoma and southeast Kansas area.”
Additionally, Burrows said, “hundreds of thousands of tons of fertilizer are shipped from the Port to those same farms during the planting season.”
“The economic impact of the Port having handled over 50,000 barges is amazing… This is the equivalent of 60,000 truckloads of commerce per year. When you consider that 50,000 barges represents 3 million truckloads, which takes that pressure off of our roads and bridges — and we all know the condition they’re in,” he said. “What a tremendous asset that is — 50,000 and more on the way.”
Claremore’s Phil Albert, President of Pelco Structural, continued the praise.
He said from a business perspective, the decision to be in northeast Oklahoma “was premeditated and deliberate and had everything to do with the Port of Catoosa.”
Albert quoted Corps of Engineer statistics that show 98 percent of all U.S. imports and exports move through our inland waterway and port system and 20 percent of U.S. Jobs, are directly related to our waterways.
“The port of Catoosa handles annually about 2.5 million tons per year of water-born freight. The port has shipped about 82.5 million tons since the first barge shipment in 1971,” Albert said. “The $21.2 million paid for by the citizens of Tulsa and Rogers County has been leveraged into over $1.5 billion investment by private industry right here in the Port of Catoosa. There is no question in my mind that the Port of Catoosa is an economic engine, not only for northeast Oklahoma, but for our entire state.”
Port Director David Yarbrough was the event’s final act.
“We have a t-shirt for each and every one of you. It’s designed to look like one of those rock-n-roll t-shirts you wore in high school because we do think the Tulsa Port rocks. The shirt’s got the tour dates of this barge — the 2017 Barge World Tour. This barge originated in Arkansas at Big River Steel. It came down 200 miles on the Mississippi River where it got on the Arkansas River and was pushed to the Port of Catoosa,” Yarbrough said.