One of the (many) things that we really enjoy about this project is when Buffalonians nominate each other. We have been getting lots of great nominations through the site. More than we can keep up with actually! So, thank you for that. We had the fortune of interviewing one of these nominations recently, which got us thinking about this whole resurgence and rise of Buffalo from another perspective. This one we can really relate to, as we moved back to Buffalo after being gone for many years. Read on, and I hope that you feel like you can play a part, as much as Bart Kresse hopes to play a part! Bart was nominated by Charlie Riley aka, our biggest fan. Thanks, Charlie!
Who is Bart Kresse?
“I was born and raised in Orchard Park as part of a big family. I have 7 brothers and sisters. I’m number 7 of 8, went to Canisius High School and enjoyed a great childhood experience, then went to Georgetown for college. I moved to New York City after graduating and was there for a little over 10 years. I met my wife there, who happens to be from Buffalo. We met through mutual friends who were also from Buffalo (most of the people we hung out with there were from Buffalo – Buffalo people flock together). Melissa hates when I mention that we met at a Bills bar, but that’s what happened. We got married in New York, but when we started talking about having a family, we made a commitment to come back. That was the end of 2007. I got a job with M&T in 2008 and we moved and into the Elmwood Village, on St. James Place. We wanted to take our time to find a house that would work for our family, and soon found a place near Delaware park. We quickly filled it up with 3 young kids.”
What does Bart do?
“In terms of my career in Buffalo, there used to be a loose connection with the revitalization of the WNY economy. I work for M&T, an organization that is extremely involved in the community, employs a large group of WNYers, and is growing (creating more jobs). All great. And my roles were aimed at helping the bank remain competitive (keep jobs here), grow (create more jobs) and serve the financial needs of the consumers and businesses in our community. Again, all great. However, I wasn’t in the trenches and felt a little disconnected from the energy – the revitalization. In the past year, I was presented with the opportunity to move into a role that is directly involved with the business community – working at M&T Insurance Agency providing property/casualty insurance to WNY businesses. It has helped me make a stronger connection between my personal passion for the continued growth of our community and what I do every day at work – helping businesses that are employing WNYers and that are growing protect their businesses from the unexpected. I am now having conversations with those businesses each day, and in a lot of cases providing them with solutions to make sure they continue to be part of a better economy here. BETTER!”
Tell us more about your involvement in the community
“I think the reason that Charlie nominated me is because I am excited about all of the progress that the city has made, but I’m also passionate about the fact that we haven’t even scratched the surface. We have a long way to go, and a lot of growth. A major driver of the growth is going to be attracting more people like us back to the area, or to stay in the area after school. I try to have a lot of conversations and make a lot of connections and just like to be involved with meeting other people. You never know where those connections are going to lead – people moving back, an idea that sparks a business, a partnership that creates something little, that leads to something bigger, which becomes something great. I believe that getting more young, smart people involved, that have ideas, will help us get to the next level. I think that people sense that about me.”
“Another thing that I think about a lot is are there groups being left out. Also, who’s going to support the growth? Who’s going to fill the jobs? If we have great ideas for new companies that need employees as they grow, who is going to fill those? The west side and east side always come up during those conversations. The first week I moved back I got involved with being on the board for NativityMiguel Middle School. It’s a private, Catholic middle school. There’s a boy’s campus and a girl’s campus. The mission of the school is to take kids that might not be on the right path, and at a critical juncture, give them an opportunity and chance to really turn things around. These kids have family members or neighbors that have been killed, or maybe have been part of gang violence – they have little hope. The school works to transform and prepare the kids for high school and to be contributing members of society. We have good relationships with local high schools like St. Joes, Canisius and Nardin. A good percentage of students go to these schools and succeed. The graduation rates are impressive, especially compared to Buffalo Public Schools. We’re talking about 30 to 40 students per year that we feel like we have transformed and put onto a different trajectory. We want to get the model right, and not grow too fast and water everything down. It’s relates back to not leaving groups behind. We want to help make sure that the success and revitalization is benefiting all areas of the city. These kids have no concept of success at all. It’s because of where they have come from. A big part of the first year is to change their mindset and convince them that they can be successful, and that they deserve success and deserve the opportunity.”
“It costs about $10-12k to educate a child at the school. The families can’t afford to pay that tuition, but we require them to pay something. Without any skin in the game, it’s just free lunch and there is no value. 95% of the operating budget has to come through donations. Mostly private, but we have some support from foundations. In the early years, a big part of it was trying to raise money and awareness. We still have an awareness problem. Some of my background is in marketing so a lot of my involvement is in helping to drive awareness of the school.”
“I think a lot about the stories and thing that we used to talk about with our group of Buffalo people when we lived in New York. This was 10 years ago. Buffalo was in a different place. Everyone was really passionate about the city. Everyone loved growing up here. All of those people would say, “if I could, I would move back to Buffalo”. The second part of that statement was always, “but there’s no opportunity, I could never do it.” That’s why I think that we’re only scratching the surface of what’s going to happen here. The progress and growth we are seeing is changing the mindset. There’s opportunity, no matter who you are and what you do. But, people are creating their own opportunities too. What I know will happen (and I want to play a part in) is getting those people who felt that way 10 years ago, who I know are still feeling that way, to come back. To get them to just do it. The more people that we get, like the people on the Yeah Buffalo website who create opportunities, that find opportunities and take advantage of them, the more people that are feeling this way, in Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Boston, wherever, they’re going to start coming back. And each one that does is going to know 4 or 5 other people who are also looking to come back. You’re going to start seeing a brain gain. It has to lead to ideas. There’s going to be huge success stories of companies starting here. We have all of the natural resources, cost basis, and other advantages for businesses. I can feel it, I can sense it and I want to be a part of it. That’s why I try to meet with as many people as I can and make as many connections as I can.”
“There’s another thing. We have some work to do at home as well. There are people in the community who aren’t paying attention to what’s going on here. We have some work to do to get people to buy into what’s going on here. It has to be everybody together, not just a small group or small subset of people.”
What’s Buffalo’s greatest areas of need?
“I think that we got over this to some extent, but everyone knows that for some time we were looking for the silver bullet. I think that at times, we still refer to that. Some people are skeptical and negative about some of the new ideas out there, where I wish that people would just accept that it’s going to take many things and accept that people just want to do better. Not everything is going to work, but buy into it. I’ve heard skepticism and negativity, even about some of the things being profiled on this blog. I just don’t think that it’s going to help anyone. Let’s focus on solutions and applaud anyone that is bringing a potential solution to the table, unless it’s throwing obstacles in the way. That’s the only thing that can get in our way – the negativity.”
The Lake Effect Van!
“I think that Buffalo people are wired differently. We’re very intelligent people. Buffalo people are very grounded, realistic and logical people. I think that some of that has to do with what we went through as a region, like losing a major employer, or our sports teams. We’re always behind our teams and getting our hopes up, only to be let down. I think it does something to all of us. I think it makes us better people. We maintain that passion though. We’ll never leave our teams. It makes heartier. I feel like it creates higher emotional intelligence.”
“My grandmother started taking us to Bills games. We went through the good and bad. Well, my brothers and I still go to every game, but we always talked about having a vehicle that would be a destination for our friends and family. It would be the centerpoint and meeting place at all of the Bills home games. One of my brothers found this used van in Rhode Island. We had it wrapped and we’re going to work on the interior this off-season, but it’s been a great thing for my brothers and I to work on together and get closer.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“I’d tell myself to not stress so much and not sweat the details about life. Enjoy the things that really make you happy, like your family. Go after the quality of life that you want. I’m not even sure that I’d tell myself that. It’s something you have to go through, and experience for yourself to get there. Everything that I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t change anything. I am where I am because of all of those experiences.”
Some parting thoughts?
“My hope and dream is that this whole growth and revitalization of the city and the sports teams culminates at one time. So, like it says in the Yeah Buffalo manifesto “and then we party”, maybe it’s going to be a Super Bowl party. One of the sports teams wins and everyone comes back for a big party.”
Joe Incao – Furnishings store on the 500 block of main
A photo posted by Lake Effect (@lakeeffectvan) on