The more things change…?

June 11, 2008

Things are changing at New York State’s economic development agency. Governor Paterson’s recent appointment of Buffalo-based Robert Wilmers, the Chairman and CEO of M&T Bank Corp., to head the

Empire State Development Corporation

(ESDC), has garnered much

praise from business groups

across the state. But whether Wilmers will support state subsidy reforms remains to be seen.

Wilmers’ appointment (subject to confirmation by the state Senate), has pleased business leaders downstate like Kathryn Wylde, head of the

Partnership for New York City


“because of his business background,”

as well as those with more of a focus on upstate. Brian McMahon, the executive director of the business-backed New York State Economic Development Council (which is


a push to attach job quality standards to locally granted subsidies) told the

Albany Times Union

that because of Wilmer’s experience in New York City and upstate, he is “an outstanding choice" to lead ESDC.


Buffalo News

reporter Jim Heaney notes on his blog,

Outrages and Insights

, Wilmers, and M&T Bank have “in many ways been good corporate citizens” by investing in downtown Buffalo, but Wilmers has also directly benefited from public subsidies. Heaney points out that M&T Bank received $1.3 million in

Empire Zone

benefits in 2006. Since Wilmers will

maintain his position at M&T

while serving as the ESDC chairperson, Heaney questions whether it will be a conflict of interest for an Empire Zone recipient to head the agency that administers the program. According to the

Albany Times Union

, M&T Securities was listed by ESDC as a company that had not lived up to its Empire Zone job commitments, but officials with Paterson and the company recently said that was an error.

When it comes to corporate giveaways, let’s hope Bob Wilmers thinks beyond his immediate business ties and he doesn’t leave us sighing the old adage “… the more they stay the same.”