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An Interview: Gretchen Hanchett Seeks District 2 Legislator Seat

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Gretchen was part of our recent article about women running in the upcoming Republican primary election in Allegany County and is a challenger in the District 2 contest.  She is the executive director of the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce and so much more:

Grandma Gretchen

Hanchett: I am an administrative professional with over 28 years of experience in non-profit and for-profit organizational management and community development. In my current position as Executive Director of the Greater Allegany County Chamber of Commerce & Office of Tourism, I have increased Chamber membership and added chapters to grow the Greater Allegany County Chamber and extend its reach. I have also managed and developed Allegany County tourism for the last nine years, during that time we have seen a 19.4% growth in tourism spending in Allegany County. I am passionate about tourism/business and making a difference on a local, state, and national level.

​Some of my past experience before ​my​ position at the Greater Allegany County Chamber include:

  • Regional Director for La Petite Academy, where I was responsible for the development and operations of 9 academies in four states on the east coast.
  • Program Director for Allegany County Head Start.
  • Director for Allegany Community Development Services, Inc.
  • Business and Community Development Director for ACCORD, Inc.

My varied background in business, community program development, education, and program administration in the for-profit and non-profit sectors provides a strong foundation for leadership. I have been a guest speaker at a number of conferences, workshops, and state forums in the northeast, and have presented on the subject of “Green” Business Development and the importance of “clustering and networking” for rural economic development. I have also provided legislative testimony in Albany on the need for rural broadband development in New York.

​I a​m​ member of many Chamber of Commerce committees, including, Leadership Allegany, Tourism, and Education Council. Other boards include​:

  • Former President, Southern Tier Economic Development Board of Directors.
  • Allegany-Cattaraugus Workforce Investment Board.
  • Amity Town Planning Board.
  • Economic Development Work Group.
  • ​IMPACT trails board​

​I have received the Chamber President’s award and New York Senate and U.S. Congressional recognition for work in the Fireball Run program episodes that promoted Allegany County.

    Why have we seen such a sharp increase in women, particularly Republican women, on the ballot?

Hanchett: “Baby Boomers” like me came of age during a time when opportunity for women increased steadily throughout our adult lives, but there is still room for improvement.  Many of the women in public office today, at all levels, local, state, and federal, are in my age group, and many of them come from busy careers and raising families.  The kids grow up, and I think a number of us realize we have so much more to contribute to our communities and can share our business experience and perspective.

Half of our population is women, and we offer a different viewpoint and way of communicating that improves the balance of things and helps to promote consensus and compromise. Republicans like me are pro-business and favor economic growth, low taxes, smaller more efficient government, and believe our liberty is among the most precious things a person can have.  There’s room for more women in public service and I think about my grand-daughter and what our County will be like when they become eligible to vote!

      You have been leading the county Chamber of Commerce operation for years now.  Will you have to resign upon election?

Hanchett: Girard Kelly President and Rod Biehler Vice President of the Greater Allegany County Chamber of Commerce have worked tirelessly in promoting our county.  If blessed to be elected by the people of District 2, I would certainly continue to serve the Chamber with enthusiasm, just as other legislators have in recent years as board members, including Dwight Fanton, Steve Havey, and Deb Root. 

It is a serious bunch with many of the who’s who of Allegany County business and our focus is mainly on pro-business growth policy, lobbying, and messaging to further the interests of local business and to get and keep the ear of decision-makers who can help us grow the County’s economy.

The late, great, Lee Gridley was the epitome of the strong, principled Republican, and had a major impact on the Genesee River Wilds project.  Has her legacy impacted you and what can you tell us about working with Lee in the planning and development world?

Hanchett: Losing Lee this year left many with such a heavy heart.  She was always such a strong advocate, teacher, volunteer, leader, and incredible friend and mentor to so many women here.  When she saw something that needed doing, she did not wait around for someone else to recognize the need, she created momentum and got things done. 

She was admired and loved by so many and used her intelligence and determination to persuade people in positive ways.  That always inspired me about her along with her lifetime commitment to community service.  The Genesee Wilds project, which originally started in the Greater Allegany County Chamber, is just one of many examples of her accomplishments, and one that is close to my heart.  I’m an outdoors type, from gardening at my own home, to camping and hiking, I get to see the incredible beauty of our County regularly and know it is among our most valuable assets.

Lee recognized the great importance of sound growth policies from her years in planning and development and her voice would have been so important this year in particular.  I would try to follow Lee’s example and ask questions constantly, seeking the viewpoints of all the different parties at the table and experts and be ready and willing to listen and learn while always following a strong moral compass, much like she had. She was also an awesome proofreader!

    Suddenly, and perhaps thanks to the pandemic, Allegany County real estate has increased in value and sales tax receipts are up.  Do you see a larger economic shift happening here?

Hanchett: With the lack of in-person shopping options, people turned to online merchants like Amazon.com and I believe that convenience is only going to continue.  With the sales tax benefits of online shopping for our County, it is a positive trend.  It could mean fewer trips to other counties for shopping, save fuel, wear and tear on our vehicles and roads, and help keep our County finances sustainable, which it’s also worth noting that both our finances and our administration are supervised by Republican women, Terri and Carissa.(Terri Ross, Treasurer and Carissa Knapp, County Administrator)

People are starting to recognize the importance of a connection to home, and it is one of the silver linings of Covid-19 for us here.  The Wall Street Journal has reported about the trend of “ZoomTowns” which is about areas like ours with incredible beauty, clean air and water, and abundant natural resources, and we no longer have to live within driving distance of a population center to get business done. 

Armstrong Cable has been a hugely important part of this trend locally by installing broadband throughout the County.  It was just installed on my road in Amity last month and it makes such a difference to be able to compete with cities in terms of internet access.  Now people can live anywhere they want and still be effective and there are few things more pro-growth for our County than that.  When visitors see the majesty of our river and hills and lakes and trails and all the other amenities we have here, along with three colleges and universities, it is no wonder we are a leader in New York with out-of-area owners of local real property.

    How should Allegany County spend the 9 million dollars in Federal Covid-19 Relief?

Hanchett: We should first retroactively restore the budgets of all the County contract organizations that suffered big budget cuts when the pandemic first hit and we were all unsure what would happen.  Now we know, and we’re making a strong comeback, not just here but throughout America, and it’s high time that we get those organizations the resources that were budgeted to them last year and they all had to make due with one-fifth less on very little notice.  It was a tough call and I understand that something had to be done in the face of an emergency, but now it’s time to restore those budgets and get business moving again!

Additional funds could be spent to create a more advanced economic development force in our County, with a dedicated team and expert consultants who promote rural economic development every day as professionals.  We need to invest in highly experienced specialists, continue to work at getting the word to professional site selectors and companies looking for locations like ours.  I would consider further investment in the regional airport in Wellsville.  Bring the water line across Route 19.  Possibly create businesses through Alfred State and others to promote programs like its “Zero Carbon” house and incentivize more building and farming projects by the trades and Ag programs.

    What lessons in life and civic life did you learn during the pandemic?

Hanchett: It is so important to clearly define the line between home and work, especially when the two can occupy the same space!  Recently I heard someone describe it as not “working from home,” but instead “living at work.”  Making that clear distinction is always a challenge when people get busy, and the lines blur a little but staying mindful about that and relationships and taking care of ourselves and the ones we love took on extra importance.  Getting outside and breathing fresh clean air without a mask was also one of life’s many blessings that I tried to get every day I could.  In some ways, the pandemic helped promote our County to people from cities who were looking for a place they could go to escape the crowding and be one with nature, which is something we have an abundance of and I for one will continue to promote and champion it as one of the most beautiful places in the world to live!

Fortunately, I really love what I do professionally in promoting tourism and commerce in our county, so for me the “ZoomTown” transition might have been a little easier than it was for other folks.  And for all the people in businesses that require a personal on-site presence, like manufacturing, florists, retail, restaurants and entertainment, there were few easy answers, and we all owe them our support to help them get back on track as fast as possible. 

My husband Doug and I were strong supporters right away, buying carry out and being among the first to go back to the local restaurants.  Chances are good if you stopped by Moonwinks in Cuba or Off Duty in Belmont or any number of other great local eateries, you might see us enjoying a meal.  We are also big believers in spending locally and keeping those hard-earned dollars circulating in our economy, so we have been doing even more of that in the last year and hope others will too, even things as small as where you buy the next tank of gas can really make a difference.

     What are the two most pressing issues in District 2 today and how do you plan to address those issues if elected?

Hanchett: The first one is obvious, what do we do in the aftermath of Great Lakes Cheese deciding the Belvidere site would not work for them, which translates now into what do we do for the hundreds of families who depend on paychecks from the existing Cuba processing plant.  We know that the people who own and manage Great Lakes Cheese are incredible people.  They should not be considered villains in this story at all.  They have worked very hard and spent a great deal of their own money to try to make a “mega plant” work here, in large part because of their profound commitment to Cuba and its people.  I’ve already started working quietly with a core group of people who know agriculture and dairy and business to identify ways to keep all those talented people employed in their current profession, and maybe we end up getting some help from the GLC folks in that regard to create something new that is testament to the long and proud history of Cuba cheese.

The second issue would be a more aggressive commitment to promoting tourism in the county.  Whether it’s agri-tourism, connected to things like cheese tasting and farm visits, or horseback riding trips, or the “experience” tourism for thrill seekers like ATV and snowmobile excursions, or bird watchers and leaf peepers, to the traditional hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities that we have so much of just waiting to be introduced to new people from out of the area.

The economic “multiplier effect” of an out-of-town dollar is something that deserves more attention.  If someone comes from Buffalo, or Rochester, or Pittsburgh, or even Toronto and spends money in Allegany County, it stays here and circulates with very little burden on government to provide support services.  The people visit, but the dollars stay here and are spent on lodging, food and beverages, fuel, supplies, bait, you name it.  That money “multiplies” and has a much bigger impact on our local economy than many people might realize.  I believe we need to do more of that wherever and whenever possible!

     Your “Hometown Growth” initiative is very interesting, can you talk more about that and some things we can do as a county to keep our high school graduates invested?

Hanchett: Growth can take so many forms, for example, from personal and professional, to institutions, infrastructure, education, to health and wellness.  That last one does not get enough attention, yet, but we are promoting this throughout the County to local business to help them drive down their employee insurance costs.  We have an incredible program that provides a tangible savings benefit to the employer, and huge benefits to our local workforce to be healthier and happier, with a strong focus on preventative health options, to keep them living longer with a better quality of life.

We have awesome higher educational institutions here with Houghton, Alfred, and Alfred State.  The students come from all over the country to learn here and we can do more to promote Allegany County as a place to start a business and raise a family.  We should embrace those kids who are from “somewhere else” because they could be an important part of the next entrepreneurial, professional, and skilled trades workforce. 

I mentioned earlier about how post-pandemic, we are starting to see a world that does not require everyone to live a thirty-minute drive from work.  Because of people like Armstrong Cable and others, the next generation can make this County their home and be employed at great distances, or they can start new businesses right here and feature the incredible natural lifestyle we have here to recruit others. 

A new era of public-private-institutional partnerships is something we should invest in now, joining together our local educational resources with business and government to create business incubators, offer more low interest loans to start-up and existing small businesses, and redesign how the IDA interacts with the business community locally, regionally, and nationally, to attract new people and new investment.

But retention is every bit as important for our future, if not more so.  Sometimes life in a small town causes our youth to look to the cities for opportunity and we lose some of our most talented kids to those cities.  We also have to be more supportive and tolerant of kids being different.  Sometimes that kid who is a bit different yearns to leave and when they do they go away and become a big success somewhere else.  You can just go on Facebook and see all the people who started here and now live elsewhere reminiscing fondly about the simpler easier days they enjoyed when they lived here.  Sometimes it almost seems like they just might regret leaving.

We can’t afford to take our outdoor recreation for granted. Many places in America dream of having the rich recreational opportunities that come naturally to us. So, I believe in not only protecting them, but investing and expanding them. Safe places to hike, ride, and drive are not without hard work, ongoing investment, and careful management. Together we can stand out from the crowd, leap past our neighbors, and make Allegany County New York’s best and most popular place for adults, youth, and children to go outside and play!

Programs like 4-H and Future Farmers of America are hugely important.  So is promoting small farm resources and education to equip kids from farming families to have the skills and knowledge to run complex Ag operations and take the baton from their parents’ generation.  It is incredibly challenging to run a farm and the successful ones have all sorts of smarts, from science, to agronomy, mechanics, finance, and management.  We need to partner with the colleges and universities and invest real dollars in programs to build the next generation of our farmers and entrepreneurs. 

Small farm programs and expanding local farmers’ markets are another important way to get kids involved at all stages of the growing process and for those who do not live or work on a farm to recognize that food has to come from somewhere and the people of this County are among the best in the world at producing it.  We should be grateful for our local farming families for all they contribute to our economy and ecology!

     Take out your magic wand and fix one of these major county issues, explain why you chose that issue:  Property Blight, The Lowest Covid-19 Vaccination Rate in NYS, or Infrastructure Improvements and Upgrades?

Hanchett: Not one of these is more important than the others, but infrastructure is hugely important as an aspect of growth and that is the biggest plank in my campaign.  I don’t really agree with some of the recent talk from Washington about the squishy definition of what exactly is “infrastructure,” so I’ll stay with the more traditional meaning.  For example, while not in my district, I’m aware of the recent flooding problems in Wellsville.  A few years ago the Rushford area, just north of District 2, also had a huge flooding problem and the cost to rebuild was significant.

The whole County was devastated by the flood of 1972 and I remember it firsthand.  We were so fortunate that the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in and improved the Genesee river and we all benefit from that every day.  It seems that sometimes from natural forces and unnatural forces, that local infrastructure struggles to handle excess rainfall and snow melt that leads to erosion of topsoil, insurance costs, and property damage among other things, and this is just one example.  First responders and public works personnel have to be deployed to address things that might otherwise be preventable.  When we have to rebuild what could have been protected and preserved, we spend scarce resources and have to do so in a hurry.  That slows down growth and business and interrupts our daily lives.  It would be a better investment to improve things so that we don’t suffer those same problems again and again.

I mentioned the airport earlier, it too is so important as a local asset and we have been fortunate to have federal funds allocated from Congress to improve and maintain it, but I’d like to see it taken to the next level.  We have many, many miles of roads in the county that need improvement, along with bridges that are not capable of handling the commercial traffic we need to keep business moving.  Now, some of those country roads are just fine the way they are and the people who use them regularly don’t want there to be blacktop, or curbs, or sewers.  And that’s one of the great things about Allegany County, it has quiet county hollows and places of commerce and both can benefit from the other, especially if we all work together.

     You indicated you and your husband are outdoor enthusiasts.  What is your favorite place to hang out in the great outdoors in Allegany County?

Hanchett: Cuba and Rushford Lakes, Alma Pond, Moss Lake, the mighty Genesee, Swain Skiing, the Wag Trail, the Hanging Bog, there’s just too many to mention!  I’d say you should visit www.wnywilds.com  and find the adventure that is waiting for you at your new favorite place!

   Not many people stay married for 41 years!!  What is the secret to your family and personal success?  What would you say to newlywedded Gretchen Hanchett if could talk with her today?

Hanchett: I was surprised by this question, but happy to go back and reflect…

Doug and I have known each other since junior high/high school and met on the school bus. Our love has always been rooted in growing together. I truly married my best friend and soul mate. What I would say to the newlywedded Gretchen 41 years ago…

  1. It’s for the long haul, it’s for a lifetime, so you make a real solid grown-up commitment to the marriage.
  2. Things do get rocky, they do get bumpy, but if you do honestly love each other, you will overcome those things.
  3. Love and Family is the glue… Grandchildren are the bonus.
  4. You have to believe in each other — not just for what you can do for each other, but for who we are, through the rough times especially. Thank God for Love!
  5. The ways that you are different will either make life interesting or drive you crazy. Which of these it is will depend on how open-minded and flexible you’re able to be.
  6. Forgiveness is important since you’ll both make plenty of mistakes.
  7. Forty years will pass in the blink of an eye. The less time you waste on things that don’t matter, the happier you’ll be.

I still live by my High School senior quote… “Some people dream things and ask why… I dream things and ask why not.”


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