Young and Promising: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District Employee Receives Industry 40 Under 40 Award

Published June 13, 2023
Two men are on a stage shaking hands as an award is presented.

Dane Morris receives a 40 Under 40 Award at the Inland Marine Expo 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 2, 2023.

Approximately 32 people pose for a photo in a convention hall with exhibit displays in the background.

Inland Marine young professionals receiving the Inland Marine Expo 2023 40 Under 40 Award pose for a photo in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 2, 2023.

Two men and two women pose in front of a display.

Dane Morris, second from left, poses with Steve Engemann, Aimee Andres and Lucy Fletcher at the Inland Marine Expo 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 2, 2023.

The inland maritime profession is a unique and demanding one. Tackling the challenges associated with the career field requires determination and innovation. Every now and then, an individual comes along who, early in their career, makes an impact that is felt across the industry. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District employee Dane Morris is one of these individuals. This June, Morris was recognized with a 40 Under 40 Award at the 2023 Inland Marine Expo in Nashville, Tennessee, also known as IMX, for his outstanding achievements.

IMX is an annual event where inland marine professionals collaborate to make maritime transportation more cost-effective, safe and environmentally friendly. Each year, the event recognizes a group of individuals under the age of 40 who have made significant contributions to the inland marine transportation industry and show promise in shaping its future. These award recipients are young professionals in a variety of career fields within the industry, including engineers, surveyors and professionals working on towboats, passenger vehicles or other commercial craft. This year, Morris was the only employee of the federal government to receive the honor.

Morris serves as the program manager for the Missouri River Navigation Restoration Program for the Kansas City District. He was nominated for the award by Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals, Inc., a nationwide trade association of ports, terminals, departments of transportation, state agencies and more.

“I’ve worked with Dane for a number of years,” Aimee Andres, the executive director for Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals, Inc., said. “As [USACE] operates and maintains the [Missouri] River, they are doing more than simply commercial navigation. When they’re working with fish and wildlife, ecosystem restoration, water quality and water supply and navigation at the same time, sometimes those interests compete with [each other.] Dane has been a solution-seeking blessing for commercial navigation on our river system, so it [functions as] a cohesive system … and is not detrimental to any other authorized purposes of [USACE].”

Early on in his position, Morris sought a solution to communication issues between stakeholders. Andres remembered previous times on the Missouri River where poor communication could lead to near-halts in shipping. Morris credits his ability to effectively communicate in the industry to time spent building trust and relationships with stakeholders.

“Relationships go a long way,” Morris said. “Trust is a large piece of being able to have two-way communication.”

This kind of trust and partnership between commercial and government entities is necessary to streamline the transit of goods and services along the river. Lucy Fletcher, business development manager for Agriservices of Brunswick, an agricultural retailer that provides multimodal transportation on the Missouri River, highlighted Morris’s role in prioritizing partnership on the river.

“We became familiar with Dane because of his wholistic approach to the system … He’s been really good with his outreach to the industry, to everyone along the Missouri River,” Fletcher said. “He specifically addresses areas of concern by navigators, and he’s been outstanding at communicating with the stakeholders.”

Besides tackling communication and relationship building hurdles when starting work, Morris came into the job during a very uniquely challenging time. He was hired to tackle a specific problem set — restoring the function of the navigation channel in the river following the 2019 flood.

“We had a large task in front of us to do the initial repairs of the channel to get navigation flowing again,” Morris said. “And then we had a longer-term effort to really restore the channel from the damage.”

Morris manages three main teams and oversees the implementation of $348 million in flood repair funding, including $248 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. He communicates with stakeholders and the chain of command within USACE’s command structure. He views his job as split into two different main focuses. His first focus is what USACE needs to maintain and manage the services it provides to the Missouri River currently. His second focus is what the possibilities and opportunities are for the Missouri River in the future.

“I’m committed to continuing to learn and grow, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for the river,” Morris said.

His drive for growth is evident through his exemplary commitment to his work. Pete Hentschel, Chief of the Operations Division for the Kansas City District, spoke about Morris’s contributions to USACE.

“Dane’s efforts as the Kansas City District’s Missouri River Restoration Program Manager have been outstanding and he’s very deserving of this award,” Hentschel said. “It’s great to see our navigation partners and stakeholders recognizing Dane for his efforts... He has strengthened [our] relationship and communication with the navigation partners and stakeholders and built trust across the industry.”

Morris views the award as a recognition of not just his own hard work, but that of his team.

“This is a testament to the dedication of my whole team,” he said. “It’s been a very humbling experience to be recognized for all the hard work we’ve done [together].”

This award is a way for all those who have benefitted from Morris’s commitment to communication, partnership and reliable navigation on the river to voice their appreciation.

“It’s such an honor to receive this award,” Andres said. “I know USACE is a really great place to work, but we as an industry want USACE and Dane to know we see you, we recognize you, and we appreciate everything you’re doing for us to keep our river open and navigable… the fact that Dane took the time to understand the navigation interests, how navigation uses the river and how USACE actions impact stakeholders shows me he’s going to go very far in this industry.”