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Editorial: M&T’s Jones identifies city’s strengths and identifies muscles needing exercise

If anyone needed more evidence and reason to invest in the educational outcomes of this area’s next generation, pay attention to the recent speech given by René F. Jones, M&T Bank Corp.’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Jones spoke at the Prospectus Premiere at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens. Prospectus is a business forecast publication published in The News last Sunday and available online.

The annual event sparks healthy discussion and debate about the fortunes and direction of Western New York.This year, Jones, 54, who was named chairman and chief executive officer of M&T in December 2017, following the death of Robert G. Wilmers, focused on what is working well here and what isn’t.

Jones said Buffalo “has become a national financial services hub.” The economic resurgence taking place is supported in good measure through financial and health care services.

Even in the manufacturing sector, where Buffalo’s economy has lagged, there is “some recent good news.” Local manufacturing employment last year increased for the first time in five years and, this fall, the Northland Workforce Training Center enrolled its first class. The class is needed to help overcome a shortage of skilled workers.

While highlighting the highs, if you will, Jones also spoke to the nagging workforce issue. “If we’re going to be able to sustain the strong (economic) growth, we can’t do that without growing a talented workforce.”

It cannot be said – and said again – enough.

This page cited a recent Sunday News article describing students who lack basic skills to get into advanced manufacturing classes at Northland. Education fell short for the young people featured in the article, and not just for the individuals and their families but for the community that desperately needs a trained workforce.

Help is on the way through several resources available through a network of organizations, notably Catholic Charities which opened its new Workforce Development and Education Center in the former American Axle plant on East Delavan Avenue, along with nonprofit literacy groups and the Buffalo Public Schools’ Adult Education Division.

There is reason for optimism, as Superintendent Kriner Cash announced twice as many schools in good standing with the state than there were three years ago, and the number in receivership down to three. That kind of progress seemed unreachable a few short years ago.

Jones offered his opinion on what it will take to make the region competitive for workers and at a time when unemployment is low: giving workers already here a reason to stay, attracting talented new workers to the region and providing “the disadvantaged members of our community with the opportunity to fully participate.”

He reminded everyone what is at stake: the future of this region’s growth and prosperity.

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