Governor Paterson has named the CEO of Buffalo-based M & T Bank, Robert Wilmers, as the new chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, according to two people familiar with an announcement expected this afternoon.
Updated 4 p.m.
Mr. Wilmers, 74, will take a new consolidated role as chairman of the state’s major development agency, which oversees incentive programs and projects such as Moynihan Station, Atlantic Yards, and the Javits Center expansion.
Mr. Wilmers, who will not take a salary, is a major political donor and served on Eliot Spitzer’s transition team just after he was elected governor. Campaign finance records show he gave $40,000 to the Spitzer-Paterson campaign between 2005 and 2006, and $50,000 to the state Senate Republicans earlier this year.
He has served on numerous boards and organizations related to business and economic development, and has been a strong advocate for the revitalization of the upstate economy. He has supported the group Unshackle Upstate, which has blamed Albany’s inattention to upstate for economic problems in the region.
“Bob Wilmers is one of the most respected and successful business executives in the state,” said Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group. “He certainly has his finger on the pulse of the issues affecting the New York State economy, and I think will be effective as a business advocate.”
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said Mr. Wilmers needs to install reforms in the agency. “ESDC has become a channel for huge amounts of taxpayer dollars going into the pockets of developers with almost no public benefit resulting,” he said.
The choice comes as the state has been having difficulty finding new leadership at the agency. The appointee may have just two and a half years in the job, and two top choices, Sharon Greenberger and Alan Fishman, were said to turn the Governor down for the job in recent weeks.
Now the state is searching anew for two principals to head the upstate and downstate operations of the ESDC, according to one source with knowledge of the situation, though it is not clear how much autonomy each position will have.
Mr. Wilmers will require Senate confirmation.
Release from the Governors office below.
Governor David A. Paterson announced today that he has nominated Robert G. Wilmers, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of M&T Bank Corporation, to serve as Chairman of New York State’s economic development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).
Wilmers, who will be based in Buffalo and have complete oversight of economic development issues throughout New York State, will now participate in an active search to identify two leaders who will be in charge of the Downstate and Upstate divisions of ESDC. Both individuals will report to Wilmers.
“Bob Wilmers is one of the most respected figures in the New York State business community,” said Governor Paterson. “Not only is he a successful banker, but he also has a long and impressive record of civic engagement. I’m pleased that an executive of Bob Wilmers’ caliber will be at the helm as we establish a new, unified leadership team that will strengthen the Empire State Development Corporation and bolster the State’s efforts to attract business and spur local development.”
Robert Wilmers said: “We have tremendous assets in New York that we can leverage to grow businesses, grow jobs and grow our economy. I’m grateful to Governor Paterson for this opportunity to bring new leadership, a new management structure and a renewed commitment to the effort to bring more private-sector economic growth to Upstate and all New York. With the right business plan and the right support in Albany, we can make New York a leader in attracting new investment and creating new jobs.”
The Governor has called for doing away with the bifurcated leadership structure at ESDC where one chairperson was in charge of Upstate economic development while another chairperson led Downstate efforts, without a clear reporting structure.
“I believe that, because we are one state, we need one leader for ESDC who understands the challenges facing New York as a whole,” said Governor Paterson. “We need someone who understands the challenges of revitalizing Upstate, the complexities of jumpstarting the large development and transportation projects Downstate and the economic relationship between Upstate and Downstate.”
Wilmers has led M&T Bank Corporation and its principal subsidiary, M&T Bank, since 1983, when M&T had assets of $2 billion. Today, with assets totaling more than $66 billion and 7,300 employees in New York, M&T is one of America’s 20 largest banks.
Wilmers’ career has taken him through worlds of government, finance, and civic organizing. After graduating from Harvard College and attending the Harvard Business School, Wilmers worked for Bankers Trust. He went on to serve as a deputy finance commissioner under New York City Mayor John Lindsay. He returned to the private sector at Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. before he was named president, and later Chairman and CEO, of First Empire State Corp (now M&T Bank Corp.).
Mr. Wilmers serves on the board of directors of The Business Council of New York State. He also served as chairman of the New York Bankers Association in 2002 and as a director Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1993 to 1998.
As chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, Mr. Wilmers will not receive a salary. This nomination requires Senate confirmation. His first day on the job will be July 12th.