Without a desire to go to college or a definitive end goal, Josh Hankey didn't know what his next step should be after high school. But he knew he had to do something, and following his father's footsteps into the military was the something that he decided on.

"I didn't join the military because I had some big (inclination) to go join the military; I just wanted to do something, and the military has a way of forcing you to do things," the 37-year-old said, laughing.

Although the Red Lion Area High School graduate believed he would travel and see the world, Hankey spent the majority of his nine years in the Army near Baltimore, at Fort Meade, as a satellite communications technician.

That belief wasn't the only one that would change during his military career.

Driving home from his midnight shift on a Tuesday morning, Hankey was eager to catch up on sleep. As he traversed the traffic on the Baltimore beltway, news came over his radio of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. That day — Sept. 11, 2001 — shattered Hankey's original belief that America was indestructible.

After watching the rest of the tragedy unfold on television, he took a quick nap and headed back to Fort Meade. Along his drive, he encountered traffic signs — normally reserved for messages such as "Accident ahead, be careful" — that read "Catastrophe, turn back now." When he finally reached base, he wasn't greeted with the typical smile and wave he'd become accustomed to.

"They literally had a tank sitting at the entrance with the gun pointed directly at us as we're coming in, and guys with M16s, dogs searching your cars, the whole nine yards, and that part of my military experience was never the same again," he said. "We thought on a regular basis a plane could just crash into our office."

2001 was also Hankey's re-enlistment year. Seeing his friends and even his sister — whom he recruited to join — sent off to Afghanistan convinced him that his duty was not complete.

That fear taught him never to take anything for granted. Coupled with the added confidence and motivation from the rest of his Army experiences, Hankey was a completely new man, and his family took notice.

"He's so much more outgoing (than before he joined the Army), and he can talk to everyone," JoAnn Hankey said of her son.

The dreamer: One quality Josh Hankey didn't get from the military was his inclination to constantly think big.

"The Army isn't real big on dreaming," said father Lee Hankey, who spent time in the National Guard. "I think that's just him."

That dreamer mindset led Josh Hankey to buy a 1920s Bungalow-style three-unit property with his then-wife in Baltimore with the idea of fixing it up, living in one unit and renting out the others to pay the mortgage. He credits that first experience with piquing his interest in real estate, as he was able to put about $7,000 into renovations on the $97,000 property and nearly double the appraisal.

"That was the times," Hankey said. "Real estate was going crazy in the early 2000s, so after that was finished, I decided I was going to attempt to buy multi-family properties and start an investment portfolio."

Working with his father, who was an electrical engineer for 44 years, Josh Hankey taught himself construction and learned how to deal with difficult tenants during those first few years in the business. A large investment in 2005 from his cousin helped him start buying at a faster rate.

After his military tenure finished in 2005, he moved to Tennessee to get a fresh start with his wife, but the couple wasn't able to work through their troubles and separated for good in 2007.

Back home: That's when Hankey, with his new perspective on real estate and urban living, began thinking about moving to York City.

"Every time I was in York City (at that time), I was thinking to myself there's no reason that this place can't be something amazing, especially after I've seen it in places (such as) Baltimore; Frederick, Maryland; Lancaster; and Asheville, North Carolina," he said.

Asheville, which was less than an hour from Hankey's Tennessee home, particularly struck a chord with Hankey and is a place he thinks about even to this day.

"It's about the same size as York City, in the middle of the Smoky Mountains, nothing around it, but it's turned into this great artisan town," he said. "That's a city that's always in the back of my head as something York could be."

Hankey officially made the move in early 2008 — "just in time for the real estate market to crash," he said.

Amid that uncertainty, Hankey chose to put his real estate acquisitions on hold and incorporate his construction business, Susquehanna Renovations. Staying afloat financially was a struggle for him at the time, but he soon realized that the chaos also presented an opportunity.

"I said to my partner that I think this is an opportunity to invest downtown because prices are rock bottom, and if we were able to buy a few things and group them together in some fashion, we would be able to make a positive impact and improve the properties' value," he said.

Hankey's search brought him to the 100 block of East King Street, where he and his partner — who wishes to remain unnamed — were able to purchase multiple adjacent properties, make some renovations and start attracting tenants that would positively affect the neighborhood. One future tenant ended up positively affecting more than just the neighborhood for Hankey.

— Coming Friday: Hankey meets his future business partner under less than ideal conditions, but gives her a chance that pays off.

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