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Staff Stories—Kyle Howell

It was a three-ingredient recipe that helped Kyle Howell get to where he is today: being raised by his father to work hard, the help of a few good friends, and in his own words “persistence and a little luck.”

Even though he graduated with a degree in meteorology, Kyle says it was his longtime childhood friend Zach Chester, now Manson operations manager, who helped him get his foot in the door for a field engineer position at Manson by introducing him to Donnie Smith, Manson survey engineer.

Now an integral part of the dredge estimating team, Kyle says he took to estimating early when he realized how much he enjoyed the fast paced and deadline-driven nature of putting estimates and bid packages together. Little by little, year by year, he kept advancing his estimating skills and is now Manson’s dredge estimating manager. He credits Mike Warwick, vice president and dredge engineering manager, as someone who really helped guide his career. Kyle says that everyone he has worked with over the years at Manson has “been highly talented and the dredge estimating team we have today really helps make my job easy.”

Kyle Howell (left) and Zach Chester (right).

Kyle began his first of 14 years at Manson as a field engineer on the GLENN EDWARDS. This was right after the new dredge was commissioned and Kyle recalls that “it was amazing being on the largest hopper dredge in the U.S.” at the time. He had just returned from an internship on a NOAA research vessel as he saw the GLENN EDWARDS pull into the Galveston Entrance Channel. It was humbling for Kyle to assist the GLENN EDWARDS dock “trying to throw the monkey fist to the crew on the dredge, in 90 degree heat, so they could attach it to a mooring line which had to be pulled back to hook to the bollards on the deck was great. Pretty sure I made them all laugh as I struggled to make it happen!”

According to Dredge Estimator William House, good estimators are good researchers. They find data, compile, review, and adjust as needed, which Kyle has successfully implemented with the team. A good manager gets the most out of the engineers on his estimating teams as he pushes for hard data. As Kyle says, “the more accurate data is provided and in an easy to use format the quicker contractors can lay out a plan and develop the lowest cost plan to perform the work.”

Kyle has high standards and a keen attention to detail. If the data is not referenced in writing, or even if font sizes on a bid package are not the same, he will notice. William adds that while Kyle may notice every detail, he is not a micromanager and is extraordinarily personable, a key feature in a good manager. William says he doesn’t know what Manson would do without him, as he is that integral to the estimating team. Kyle manages the dredge estimating process from start to finish, stays on top of things, provides set-up, monitors changes, change summary, reviews changes, and conducts lessons-learned sessions.

Kyle recalls one of his favorite projects he has worked on, which was the Bevill Lock and Dam Cross Current Correction Project on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Pickensville, Alabama back in 2010. The project involved clearing, grubbing, and dredging a 10-acre island. Kyle was able to estimate the work and was also the project engineer for the job. Many years later in discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kyle recalls “it was great to hear that our project was still functioning for the intended purpose it was built which corrected a dangerous cross current at the lock when water levels were high.” Kyle says one of the coolest things to be a part of is being able to pull up Google Earth and see all of the projects Manson has performed that have transformed the face of the earth.

Now 14 years into his career at Manson, Kyle still works with the team he started out with: Henry Schorr, Mike Warwick, and Donnie Smith. He also started working under Marc Stearns, who retired in 2016 but who he still sees popping up around Jacksonville. “I still work with Zach Chester closely as he is the Operations Manager for our Gulf and South East Cutter Suction Dredge team. There are a lot of familiar faces, which is a great thing about Manson, how many people stick around for a long time.”

When asked about lessons learned, Kyle replies that there are so many, but “the trick is remembering all of them so you don’t make the same mistake twice.” As for advice to new Mansonites, he says “be a sponge – there is a significant amount of experience to be learned with all the professionals you will work with throughout your career." The best piece of advice he, himself, has received? “Read the contract!”

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