Western New Yorkers, we suspect, are for the most part unfamiliar with how important John Koelmel is to the region. That's about to change as the chief executive officer of First Niagara Bank raises his powerhouse profile in a community that is thirsting for the kind of leadership he provides.
Koelmel already wears many hats here, and he is about to pick up a new one as chairman of the board of the New York Power Authority. That is the agency that oversees, among other things, the Niagara Power Project, which produces some of the nation's cheapest electricity while providing too little benefit to its home region. In that capacity, Koelmel's name will become better known here and around the state. It will be a challenging assignment, but one that he is clearly suited to undertake. Indeed, the people of this region are fortunate to have someone so capable, and from their own back yard, in that critical position.
His record is notable enough that he was named one of The Buffalo News' Outstanding Citizens of 2011.
Most recently, of course, Koelmel guided First Niagara's acquisition of 1 million accounts from HSBC. The transfer, which represents First Niagara's largest-ever acquisition, seems to have gone off with only minor hitches. But there is much more than that to Koelmel's record.
*He moved the bank's corporate headquarters from suburban Pendleton to the Larkin at Exchange Building in downtown Buffalo, giving new cachet and credibility that helped rescue the building and the neighborhood.
*In 2010, the bank made a $500,000 donation to the Empire Games in hopes of drawing more corporate sponsors and helping to put the games back on a more sound financial footing.
*He is chairman of the Kaleida Health Board of Directors, helping to steer the region's largest hospital system in a direction that looks to be cutting-edge medically and stronger financially.
Communities across the country cry out for this kind of leadership from the private sector. Western New York has seen too little of that, but Koelmel's profile is rising at a particularly advantageous time and in particularly advantageous ways for Western New York.
We hope that in his new post he will help the region draw more economic benefit from the cheap electricity that is produced along the Niagara River and that he will keep our interests in mind as efforts begin to upgrade the state's aging electrical transmission system.There is a lot of work still to do. Western New Yorkers can be glad Koelmel is helping to lead it.