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M&T Bank, Wilmers deserve thanks for leadership in improving life in WNY

It’s not just that M&T Bank is still in Buffalo, 160 years after it was founded as Manufacturers and Traders Bank, although that, in itself, is a testament the bank’s strong leadership and guiding principles.

But what makes M&T especially worthy of the community recognition it received this week is its commitment to the community where it was founded. More than a century and a half later, few businesses match its devotion to the improvement of Buffalo and all of Western New York. Both the bank and its chairman, Robert G. Wilmers, have established a record of philanthropy that can make area residents proud of their successful, homegrown bank.

The bank celebrated its birthday this week on its Main Street plaza – the same place where crowds have gathered for free lunchtime concerts for 47 summers. Guests included community leaders who were appropriately effusive in their praise for the bank and what it means to Buffalo. Among them were Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

“To have a company like M&T reach its 160th birthday and still be in the hometown that it was created in, is almost unheard of,” Poloncarz told the crowd. He’s right and, as Brown observed, the bank “is part of the progress that we’re seeing in the City of Buffalo.”

Here’s one example of how: The bank and Wilmers helped to rescue Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the jewel of Main Street that once seemed headed for the wrecking ball. Wilmers posted a $1 million challenge grant to restore the lighted marquee, which had been dark for half a century.

Said Wilmers on the day of its relighting: “Shea’s is a magnet that draws people to downtown Buffalo from all over Western New York and beyond. We need more people in the theaters, in the restaurants, in the stores, in the apartments and condos and on the sidewalks like when Shea’s marquee first lit up downtown.”

It’s happening – not only because of Shea’s restoration, certainly, but it was the snowball that became an avalanche. It was visionary and it happened, in good part, because of M&T and its chairman.

The bank has also had prominent roles in the restoration of the Darwin Martin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; the improvement of the Buffalo Zoo and other philanthropic ventures. It supports the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood program and its employees are prominent volunteers at schools and important community institutions.

In 2015, alone, M&T donated more than $5.5 million in nine Western New York counties. That’s a record that builds community trust and helps to secure its business.

It is Buffalo’s good fortune that M&T has kept its headquarters where it began, four years before Abraham Lincoln was elected president. It is better still that Buffalo can safely count on the bank’s continued presence and generosity for many years to come.

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