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Jason Wright: In the last place he wanted to be -- and thrilled

New York City was the last place Jason Wright wanted to end up.

The youngest of five, he grew up in a bustling house in Springville and benefited from the close bonds that a small town fosters.

"I would do something, and my mother would find out before I got home," he said. "That's just the way Springville is."

He and his buddies played football at Springville-Griffith Institute, with Wright at fullback, a scrappy kid with decent speed. He earned the respect and friendship of classmates off the field, too, winning him the title of class president as well as "most popular."

After high school, he headed up Route 219 to the University at Buffalo, where he majored in political science. From there, he earned a master's degree at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania -- spending a semester in Oxford -- then attended the State University at Binghamton, where he got a master's degree in public administration and completed doctoral course work in public budgeting and finance.

When he left Binghamton, Wright was ready to make his way in the world, anywhere he might land.

Well, almost anywhere.

"When I started job-hunting, I said, 'Anywhere but New York,' " he said. "It was the fear of the big city. Growing up, my exposure to a big city was Buffalo."

Still, when he got a call from New York City's Office of Management and Budget, Wright agreed to go for an interview. It would be a good chance to hone his interview skills so he would be ready once the right job came along, he figured.

The interview went so well, the city offered him a job as a budget analyst. He took it.

Wright moved into a basement apartment in Queens. He forced himself to overcome his fear of driving in the city. And he decided New York City isn't such a bad place to be.

"There's a lot of great and rich things to do in the city," he said. "I love working in New York. There's an amazing amount of opportunity."

He should know.

The New York City Economic Development Corp. -- a nonprofit that manages most of the city's waterfront properties, staffs the Industrial Development Agency and works to spur growth -- hired him in 2000 as an assistant vice president to oversee the capital budget.

After several promotions, he is now executive vice president and chief financial officer, overseeing 140 employees and the $2 billion capital budget.

Despite the stress that comes with his job, Wright constantly exudes calmness -- his voice soft, his laugh hearty and his stride quick but not harried. Staffers, from secretaries to senior vice presidents, seek him out for a sympathetic ear and reassurance throughout the day.

He's religious about striking a work/life balance. Wright takes an hour for lunch every day, often eating with Tom Jones, the budget director, who's a Rochester native and fellow UB alumnus.

"He always blocks out noon to 1," said Wright's assistant, Stephanie Field. "That's pretty unusual around here, where most people grab lunch at their desk."

That's not the only way he mixes a Springville pace amid Big Apple frenzy.

He gets to work by 8:30 a.m. Most days, he's out the door by 5:30 p.m., and after about 75 minutes on two commuter trains and in his Land Rover, he's home in Campbell Hall, Orange County.

The commute, unthinkable by Buffalo standards, affords him and his family the kind of home you might find in Western New York: a roomy brick Victorian -- complete with a room in back that once served as a speakeasy -- set back on three acres, with a cluster of apple trees.

His wife, Heidi, works from an upstairs home office, handling corporate accounts for American Express. Hannah, 3, and Cooper, 1, spend the day with a sitter. In the evening, Jake, the black Lab, works off some energy in the yard, while Heidi and Jason tag-team dinner preparations and child care. They make a point of eating dinner as a family, even if it's not until 8 p.m.

"My wife and I didn't want to raise kids in an apartment, in city schools," he said. "We've lived in the Hudson Valley for four years. We absolutely love it."

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