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M&T's René Jones urges action on 'gap in prosperity'

René F. Jones sees a widening "gap in prosperity" in the country, between the 50 largest markets and the rest of the country.

The result is an "uneven" economic recovery from the Great Recession, different from past recoveries, M&T Bank Corp.'s chairman and CEO said.

"Ensuring that our economy becomes more inclusive, and opportunity more equally available, is an important national priority," Jones said in his annual letter to shareholders. Tackling the issue "will require participation from every sector, including banks of all size, and bankers like those of us at M&T."

Jones, like his predecessor, Robert G. Wilmers, used his message to touch on themes beyond the bank's own financial performance.

M&T operates in both kinds of markets Jones described: big, thriving metros, and smaller, struggling areas, including its markets across upstate New York.

"The diversity of our footprint provides a unique window into the disparate rates of recovery in different size markets," he wrote, affirming the bank's commitment to those smaller markets.

The 50 largest metro areas are home to only 54 percent of the U.S. population, but in the past decade have accounted for 70 percent of the population growth, two thirds of the nation's economic output, and 80 percent of the employment gains, Jones said.

Small urban areas, towns and rural communities with populations below 50,000 "are at risk of being left behind altogether," he said. Their population grew just three tenths of 1 percent in the past decade, and less populous areas are losing jobs, despite job growth elsewhere, he said.

The number of new small businesses outside the 50 largest metro areas declined nearly 13 percent from 2007 to 2014, he said. The gap between big cities and everywhere else also applies to broadband internet access. In large cities, 97 percent of the population has broadband internet access, while in the nation's smallest communities, 39 percent of the population lacks high-speed access to the web, Jones said.

"To begin to restore parity and inclusivity in our economy, and in our society as a whole, more must be done to ignite economic activity beyond the biggest cities and across Middle America," Jones said. "Regional banks will continue to play a leading role in this effort, working with customers, community partners and government."

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