One of our Own: Justin Hanft

Justin Hanft
Justin Hanft

Article Contributed by
Katie Smith

The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and the Dream It Do It project couldn’t ask for a better cheerleader than Justin Hanft.

Born in the southern tier, Justin moved to Chautauqua as a toddler and attended Bemus Point Schools. He is a proud 2004 graduate of Maple Grove Junior Senior High School and was active on the football team. After high school he attended Alfred State College, graduating with a BA in political science and an MA in literary education with a concentration in history. During college he continued his football involvement; working as the running backs coach at Alfred.

His desire to be close to family and friends brought him back the Chautauqua County. For several years he worked in landscaping and served as a substitute teacher. He was determined to make a living in this area because all of his and his wife’s family are local.

“I like the small town feel to our area,” he said. “Tthere is always something to do and I knew I wanted to be here.” He enrolled in the Chautauqua Leadership Network (CLN) and met Todd Tranum from the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce at one of the CLN seminars.

In what he considers the true spirit of CLN, Justin did his networking and learned about the position open at the chamber for a community coordinator. When the past Dream It Do It Coordinator retired, Justin was ready to fill the role.

“I use my teaching degree and history background everyday”, he said. “My job is to connect schools, teachers and students to the manufacturing world – letting them know the history of manufacturing and how it has changed over time.”

Under Justin’s leadership the Dream It Do It program has expanded, grown to include more than 700 students and added “STEM Wars” to the Manufacturing Career Fair. His enthusiasm the STEM competition projects is obvious – ranging from robotic soccer games to car race competition each spring. He also admits to challenges around STEM. “It’s hard to work science experiments into the competition and I’m not sure if I can figure out how to introduce math competition, but you should really see the robotics and the races the students produce”

Hanft proudly relates the involvement of all 18 schools districts and his collaboration with NYSTEEA – the New York State Technical Engineering and Education Association. Nevertheless, he still admits there is room for expansion and improvement.

“There is a Renaissance happening in this area. Companies are relocating, our school districts are all excellent, it’s family friendly here and there are rising opportunities.”

Justin is quick to offer encouragement and support, he’s certain anyone with a good work ethic and the willingness to try can find a local job in manufacturing, make a living here and remain employed.

“I enjoy coming to work every day, there isn’t any part of my job I don’t find rewarding and satisfying, there is special pleasure in seeing young people turn their internships into jobs and careers and in knowing I’ve really made a difference.”