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Collins has helped M&T to grow in Maryland and beyond

With its name on Baltimore’s professional football stadium and a network of more than 200 branches in Maryland alone, it’s hard to believe that for its first 120 years in business Manufacturers and Traders Trust Co. — now known as M&T Bank Corp. — did not stray far from its home base.

Atwood Collins III, Executive VP of M&T Bank Corporation, and President and Chief Operating Officer of its Mid-Atlantic Division.

The bank did not make its first acquisition until 1976, when it bought First Empire Bank in New York City. M&T was then forced to look outside of its home in Buffalo, N.Y., and figure out how to integrate and grow a business in a, relatively speaking, foreign market.

To do so, the bank’s leaders looked to Atwood “Woody” Collins III, a Yale graduate and former U.S. Army lieutenant who had recently joined the bank after a four-year stint with J.P. Morgan & Co.

“The question was, what to do with it?” Collins told reporters and editors at The Daily Record last week. “That was my lot in life, to figure that out.”

Flash forward 35 years and M&T is the 17th-largest bank in the country, in terms of market share, with $41.7 billion in total deposits. The bank has branches in 16 regions in the Mid-Atlantic, the most recent being Delaware after it acquired Wilmington Trust in May.

In Maryland, M&T has gone from having no presence in 2000 to being the second-largest bank in the state in terms of market share, behind only Bank of America.

“We didn’t grow up here, but we are here in a big way,” said Collins, president and chief operating officer of M&T’s Mid-Atlantic Division.

M&T’s big push came in 2003 with the $3.1 billion purchase of Allfirst Financial Inc. Allfirst was formed in 1999 when Allied Irish Bank bought out First National Bank, once the largest bank in Maryland.

In 2008, M&T purchased Provident Bankshares Corp. in a deal valued at $401 million.

When M&T decided to enter the Maryland market, it tapped Collins once again.

Collins said the key to M&T’s success has been weaving the bank into the fabric of the communities it serves. M&T has its name is on the stadium where the Baltimore Ravens play, its charitable foundation gives $5.5 million a year and many of the bank’s 15,000 employees work in the 210 branches in Maryland.

Collins, a resident of Federal Hill in Baltimore, is chairman of the Kennedy Krieger Institute Inc., and a director of the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Baltimore Development Corp. He also sits on the boards of the University of Maryland Medical System, Central Maryland Transportation Alliance and Visit Baltimore.

All of those experiences have put Collins at the center of many of the major economic development issues facing Baltimore and Maryland.

“There are a lot of headwinds in the economy today,” Collins said. “And some people see it as a glass half empty; some see it as a glass half full. As a businessman, I’m focused on how to make it full, not empty.”

Constellation merger

One of the biggest potential boons to Baltimore’s economy, he said, would come from the pending acquisition of Constellation Energy Group by Exelon Corp. Chicago-based Exelon plans to buy the Baltimore-based energy company in a $7.9 billion all-stock deal that the companies say includes a package of incentives in the state worth $250 million. Chief of those is a pledge to build a new facility for the energy trading division of the new company.

Collins said while Baltimore would lose its last Fortune 500 company in Constellation, the project would mean not only construction jobs but higher-paying ones when Exelon employees are added to the mix.

“If you look at the likelihood of any Class A office space being built in Baltimore, it’s slim to next to none,” Collins said. “And, on the one hand we’ve had this sort of raging debate in terms of the efficacy and hand-wringing of the loss of a headquarter company. The fact of the matter is there’s going to be major construction of a Class A office building here that will inhabit a lot of workers who will move here. I think that’s positive.”

Collins said he hoped that state regulators and officials take into account the economic impact the Constellation deal would have on the area. The Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, is in the midst of reviewing the deal and could kill it if it finds it not to be in the best interest of Constellation’s customers.

“The path to achievement sort of goes through the Public Service Commission,” Collins said. “If there’s no approval, there’s no building. I think that’s the reality.”

Collins said officials at the municipal and state levels should focus on getting the best deal for Baltimore, assuming the deal goes through. If done right, he said, the area would see the new construction and an influx of professional jobs that will help the tax base and could add residents to the city.

“The reality is these are publicly traded companies and they can merge or divest, and this is in their opinion the best alternative,” he said. “You can complain about it, you can cry about it, but the reality of it is, it’s happening. So, let’s take advantage of it.”

Collins said there has been a lot of speculation about where the new office building would be located. He said that in his opinion, the two most viable options are the old McCormick Spice site at the Inner Harbor and at Harbor Point. He said a third rumored location, the former News-American newspaper site, would probably not work for what the companies wanted to build.

“While that’s certainly a site for a building, if you look at the lot configuration, it’s not particularly conducive to 30,000-square-foot trading floors, which is the mandated use of the facility that’s going to be built,” Collins said.

Convention center

In addition to the Constellation deal, Collins said the proposed expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center is a key component for economic development in the city. The $900 million project would expand the convention center and add a 500-room convention hotel.

“Do I think it’s good for Baltimore? Absolutely,” Collins said.

Collins said the fact 92-year-old construction magnate Willard Hackerman had pledged to fund $500 million of the project was indicative of the support it has in the community, as well as the perceived need for an expansion.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind it — the business community is 100 percent behind it,” Collins said.

He said the convention center in its current form is too small. Expanding it would allow the city to compete with rival markets like Philadelphia for convention business. He said the goal was to get more people to the city, who will then come back.

“People come for a convention and see how attractive Baltimore is,” Collins said. “It’s a big driver.”

He also pointed to the plans of East Baltimore Development Inc. to redevelop 88 acres north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore. The $1.8 billion EBDI project was originally conceived as an upmarket biotech park of 1.1 million square feet.

“That’s a tremendous undertaking — the redevelopment of 80 acres,” Collins said.

“Has it happened as quickly as we’d like? No,” Collins added. “But, over time that’s a significant undertaking and a significant commitment of capital dollars on a massive scale.”

The unsung port

As a former port commissioner for the Maryland Port Commission, Collins said the Port of Baltimore often doesn’t get its due for the contributions it makes to the city and state economy. According to the state, the port generates $3.2 billion in annual revenue and local purchases while supporting 50,700 jobs. In 2010, the port moved 33 million tons of cargo, up from 22.3 million in 2009.

“I think the port is a tremendous success story for Baltimore and Maryland,” Collins said.

He said the port’s importance is only going to grow with the expansion of the Seagirt Marine Terminal, a 275-acre center for automated cargo handling. Opened in 1990, a project to add Berth IV at the terminal is set to be completed in August. When completed, the expansion will give the port a 50-foot-deep channel and four new cranes.

The expansion is intended to attract shipping from the Panama Canal, which is undergoing an expansion of its own to be completed in 2014 and will allow passage of supersize tankers. Tankers of that size require a port with a channel 50 feet deep; Norfolk, Va., has the only other such port channel on the East Coast.

“That’s going to mean more imports and exports to the economy, and it’s going to mean more jobs, and it’s going to make Baltimore uniquely competitive,” Collins said.

Atwood ‘Woody’ Collins III

Age: 64

Hometown: Hartford, Conn.

Family: Wife Cindy; two sons: Porter, 36, and Dwight, 31.

Education: Hotchkiss School and Yale University

Career: Collins is an executive Vice President with M&T Bank Corp. and is president and chief operating officer of M&T’s Mid-Atlantic Division, headquartered in Baltimore. Collins also is a member of M&T’s Management Group. Collins has been an executive vice president of M&T Bank since 1988. Prior to M&T, he was senior vice president with J.P. Morgan & Co.

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