New York Gov. David Paterson yesterday tapped Robert Wilmers, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of M&T Bank Corp., to lead the Empire State Development Corp. as its new chairman. The announcement followed the resignation yesterday of ESDC upstate chairman Daniel Gundersen.

"Bob Wilmers is one of the most respected figures in the New York State business community," Paterson said in a press release. "Not only is he a successful banker, but he also has a long and impressive record of civic engagement."

Wilmers will be based in Buffalo and will oversee upstate and downstate divisions of the ESDC to be headed by two leaders that have yet to be chosen.

Wilmers has been at the helm of M&T Bank. since 1993. Under his leadership, the bank's assets have grown to $66 billion from $2 billion and is one of the nation's top 20 largest banks, according to a press release.

"It's a political masterstroke," said Kent Gardner, president and chief economist at the Center for Governmental Research, a public policy think tank in Rochester. "He has the prestige and influence to earn the respect of people in New York City ... He's also a very successful banker and he is a very shrewd businessman."

Gardner said that while M&T bank has a small presence in New York City, it has a large presence throughout the rest of the state.

The ESDC is the state's main economic development agency which under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer had been divided between an upstate and downstate chair which was intended to put greater focus on the state's economy outside of New York City. Downstate chairman Patrick Foye resigned shortly after Spitzer left office in March. Paterson announced a month ago that he wanted to do away with the dual chairmanship system, which observers said had led to confusion in the agency.

Wilmers' nomination requires confirmation by the state Senate.

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