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Chamber’s Top 100 firms announced, rankings to be revealed at Nov. 1 event  

The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce on Monday revealed the firms on this year’s Top 100 list of fastest-growing companies in the Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region.  

Chamber’s Top 100 firms announcedThe chamber will reveal the 36th annual rankings and host an in-person award celebration from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at the Floreano Convention Center.  

The annual list is presented in partnership with accounting partner KPMG LLC and presenting sponsor ESL Federal Credit Union.

The companies who have secured spots on this year’s list collectively employ over 28,000 people and have a total combined revenue of over $15 billion in the most recent fiscal year. 

A list of the companies can be found here. 

“The 2022 Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Top 100 showcases the economic strength, success, and diversity of business sectors and industries that make up the Greater Rochester economy and make this region such a great place to live for so many,” said Bob Duffy, chamber president and CEO, in a statement.  “The impact these companies have had on our region, economically and beyond, is massive and something that deserves to be celebrated. “ 

To be eligible for the Greater Rochester Chamber Top 100 program, companies must be privately owned, headquartered in the nine-county Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region and have earned at least $1 million in revenue in each of the three most recent fiscal years. 

The Greater Rochester Chamber Top 100 rankings are calculated based upon revenue, considering both dollar and percentage growth. Individual company revenue information is held confidential. 

Registration and sponsorship opportunities for the Nov. 1 event are available here. 

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

ESL Federal Credit Union to offer homebuyer grants for Black, Latino residents

ESL Federal Credit Union will awards grants for Black and Latino first-time homebuyers, the organization said on Friday. The grant is a 10-to-1 dollar-for-dollar match, up to $10,500 toward down payment and closing costs.

Homeownership rates among Black and Latino residents are 32 percent and 35 percent, respectively, in the Greater Rochester nine-county region, according to ACT Rochester’s 2020 Hard Facts Update. This compares with 73 percent among white residents in the region.

“The creation of the ESL First-Time Homebuyer Grant helps in addressing the inequitable homeownership opportunities that exist in our community,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union. “These inequitable opportunities experienced by the Black and Latino communities have existed for generations, and have stood in the way of providing these residents with access to and attainability of homeownership, the most common of wealth-building tools. Our community cannot be prosperous so long as these inequitable opportunities exist, and ESL is committed to doing our part to embedding greater equity in our community so all who call Greater Rochester home can thrive.”

The grant offers eligible first-time homebuyers the ability to earn $10 in grant dollars for every $1 saved over a minimum six-month savings period. The grant provides home buying educational support, a dedicated ESL Savings Account and funds towards down payment/closing costs.

“Our goal is to make the home buying process more accessible for Black and Latino residents in our community,” said Caytie Bowser, vice president/director, Product Development and Management, ESL Federal Credit Union. “Closing costs and down payments are two of the biggest impediments when it comes to the home buying process. Through this grant, we are not only able to lessen the upfront cost burden of buying a home, but ultimately set up grant participants for long-term success through first-time homebuyer education sessions and access to post-homeownership guidance.”

Grants are available annually on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible Black and Latino buyers, and ESL has committed to providing 300 grants on an annual basis. The grant funds will be made available to owner-occupied purchased properties that are located within Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties in the State of New York.

More information can be found here.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Urban League, ESL offer small business grants

The Urban League of Rochester has teamed with ESL Federal Credit Union’s Charitable Foundation to provide small businesses in Monroe County $300,000 total in COVID-19 relief funds.

The Sustaining Small Businesses and COVID-19 Relief Grant Program will support small business owners in a number of vital sectors including service/hospitality and lifestyle; health and wellness; and manufacturing. The businesses will receive direct and immediate assistance to combat the impact of the pandemic and to connect individuals with the knowledge, tools and resources they need for long-term stability and growth, officials said.

Grant recipients may use the funds for needed expenses like rent and mortgage payments, utilities, insurance and salaries. Participants also will receive ongoing training through the Urban League’s Business Development division.

Applicants must be for-profit entities with 20 or fewer employees. The business must be privately-held and have revenue of $500,000 or less. At least 50 percent of the individuals employed by the business must be permanent residents of the county of Monroe.

The application deadline is Feb. 1.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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ESL invested $10 million in community for COVID-19 relief last year

ESL Federal Credit Union invested more than $10 million last year to help support local organizations with their pandemic efforts, the company said this week. ESL FCU reinvested nearly $20 million in the community overall.

Faheem Masood
Faheem Masood

“Nonprofits have been experiencing critical financial hardships throughout the pandemic and that is expected to continue well into 2021,” said ESL FCU President and CEO Faheem Masood. “To support the stability and resiliency of these agencies so they can continue to provide critical services nonprofit and corporate funders need to join together to lift up these organizations for the benefit of the people in the greater community. Our purpose at ESL is to help our community thrive and prosper, and thanks to the trust and loyalty of our members we are ready and able to do our part to reinvest in the community as we all work together through this public health crisis.”

Some of the grants ESL provided in 2020 to support the pandemic response included:

• $4 million to 20 nonprofit agencies distributed through United Way of Greater Rochester to ensure funding for the agencies remained whole due to a decrease in workplace campaign donations throughout the year
• $2.5 million donated to the Community Crisis Fund organized and managed by United Way of Greater Rochester and Rochester Area Community Foundation
• $385,000 through United Way in Livingston, Ontario, Wayne and Genesee counties to housing agencies in those counties for rent relief
• $350,000 to Rochester City School District to address the digital divide among students and provide WiFi access
• $345,000 to Urban League of Rochester for sustaining small businesses and COVID-19 relief
• $300,000 to PathStone Enterprise for COVID-19 business recovery, supporting minority-owned small businesses
• $250,000 to Child Care Council, which provided $1,000 grants in three counties to child care centers
• Roughly $190,000 to Action for a Better Community to address the digital divide. The grant matched a federal grant for internet devices and years’ worth of internet connectivity for some 150 families
• $100,000 to The Children’s Institute to address the digital divide for pre-k students (3-5 year olds)

Ajamu Kitwana,
Ajamu Kitwana

“The critical issues our community faces because of this pandemic and beyond are best addressed when organizations come together and collaborate for the greater good,” said Ajamu Kitwana, vice president/director, community impact, ESL Federal Credit Union. “This level of collaboration will continue to be a necessity in 2021 and ESL is prepared to learn from our work in 2020 and understand where funding needs are greatest as we move forward.”

ESL’s community impact team was created in an effort to support the building of a healthy, resilient and equitable Greater Rochester. The community impact efforts of ESL focus on expanding individual opportunity, building strong neighborhoods and strengthening organizations and systems. Over the last three years, ESL’s philanthropic reinvestments in the community have totaled more than $40 million.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Groups collaborate to fund remote learning internet issues

The County of Monroe is teaming with ESL Federal Credit Union, Greater Rochester Health Foundation and Rochester Area Community Foundation on a solution to improve internet connectivity to help more students actively participate in their lessons throughout the school day.

Officials noted that the pandemic uncovered gaps in technology for students in the city of Rochester. Local and national foundations and other organizations responded quickly to ensure city students had laptop computers, tablets and devices to provide internet connections into the homes of students who needed them.

But the continuation of remote learning this fall has brought about another issue: Hotspot devices have not provided enough speed or consistent connection required for effective online learning.

“I am extremely grateful for the generosity and innovative spirit of our partners who are helping to ensure that our students receive the best education possible during a global pandemic,” said RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small in a statement. “For many of us, having reliable internet access is a given. For many of our students, getting this access will not only help with their education, it also brings them to a more equitable playing field.”

T-Mobile’s Project 10Million will donate 2,900 mobile hotspots to be distributed to RCSD students in kindergarten through high school who do not have reliable internet connections.

Monroe County has committed to using up to $175,000 of the federal CARES Act money to cover the $43,000 monthly connectivity costs for those devices through Dec. 31. The organizations will work together to coordinate among other area philanthropies to support the purchase of additional mobile hotspots for up to 2,000 more students. The county also will cover the $32,000 monthly unlimited data charges for the devices for November and December.

Local funders have committed to contributing and raising additional resources to continue to pay the $83,000 monthly unlimited data charges for all of the new hotspots through summer school.

“The collaborative work being done in our community across public, private and nonprofit sectors to address the critical needs of families during this pandemic is the exact kind of regional collaboration we need to solve Greater Rochester’s challenges,” said ESL Vice President/Director, Community Impact Ajamu Kitwana. “The collaboration between Monroe County and the city school district has motivated us to match the county’s funding as a show of deep support for that partnership.”

With ESL paying for two months of internet connectivity and GRHF and RACF committing to each pay for a month, that leaves four monthly bills not covered. ESL will help close that gap by matching additional contributions up to $350,000. United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. has offered $25,000 toward that effort.

“As we continue to navigate this unprecedented pandemic, we need to work together to ensure our students have the resources they need to learn and succeed. This is no small task,” said County Executive Adam Bello. “Thanks to the support of our community partners we’re able to ensure that RCSD students will have reliable WiFi for the rest of the school year.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

United Way receives $4 million grant from ESL for emergency services

ESL Federal Credit Union has provided a $4 million grant to the United Way of Greater Rochester to support 20 local health and human services agencies that provide crucial basic needs programs.

The grant is in response to significantly increased needs in the community as a result of COVID-19 and will fund emergency services, legal assistance, community partnerships and housing and shelter.

Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)
Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)

“Our basic needs providers meet high demand every year, but have been pushed to the breaking point given the impacts of COVID-19,” said United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders. “Our community has worked together to bend the COVID-19 curve, and we need to work together now to bend the basic needs curve for so many individuals and families in Greater Rochester.”

The COVID-19 health crisis has increased the demand for services, pushing additional individuals and families to seek help. Officials noted that in June 2020, the unemployment rate in Greater Rochester surged to 11.3 percent, compared with less than 4 percent during the same time last year.

Calls for help to 211 LIFE LINE, the community’s information and referral hotline, have tripled since March. More than 60 percent of those calls were for food, housing and shelter, when in 2019, fewer than 28 percent of requests were for basic needs, and calls for food are up 20 fold.

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

“This community that we love has given us so much and ESL has a duty to step up and help Greater Rochester,” said ESL President and CEO Faheem Masood. “We say that our purpose is ‘To help our community thrive and prosper’ and that cannot and will not be possible if we are not doing our part to contribute to uplifting the health and resiliency of critical agencies that provide essential services to thousands of individuals and families.”

As the community continues to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, experts expect a surge of additional need as governmental assistance ends.

Tuesday’s announcement comes just weeks after United Way announced a significant gap in fundraising for its annual campaign, which had just begun as COVID-19 shut down workplace operations statewide. The campaign is focused on funding health, education and economic mobility services, all of which also are severely affected by the pandemic.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

ESL distributes $20 million in early dividends

ESL Federal Credit Union has distributed $20 million to members in an early owners’ dividend payout for 2020.

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

“The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has created a great deal of financial stress for many in our community,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL. “This $20 million is much more helpful to our members now instead of waiting until our traditional timeframe of January 2021. We believe this is a tangible way in which we can support our membership through these challenging times, as the combined impact of $20 million into our community can help make a difference.”

ESL now has shared more than $170 million with its members over the program’s 25 payouts.

The individual owners’ dividend payout amounts ESL members receive are based on an established owners’ dividend criteria.

ESL Federal Credit Union serves as a full-service financial institution to more than 370,000 members. The credit union was founded in 1920 by George Eastman and provides personal banking, business banking, mortgage services and wealth management services through its locally-based 22 branch network, telephone, mobile, online and live chat center.

The Rochester-based financial institution employs some 850 people in the Greater Rochester area and holds more than $6.9 billion in assets.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Digital banking blooms, but in-person interaction still important

Interest in in-person banking had already been declining in recent years and those in the industry expect the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 to shift more people to online banking services even after things go back to normal.

They stress, however, the need to continue to have branches to provide in-person interactions and say plans are underway to strike a balance between the two ways people can bank.


Martin Birmingham, president and CEO of Five Star Bank, says digital access — in areas that range from banking to shopping — has increased during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Digital access and accessibility have been of great importance for our customers and associates during this time,” Birmingham says.

Five Star operates more than 50 branches, and most are now open for drive-up service or by appointment, but there has been a marked increase in the number of customers using online banking options.

The increase in use of online banking services has been seen during the COVID-19 outbreak, but it had also been steadily increasing before it, Birmingham notes.

The bank had already been responding to that increased usage and had been working on a strategy to transition to a new digital banking platform. The COVID-19 pandemic expedited that transition, he says.

Five Star first conducted a survey to gauge customer support for rolling out the new platform at this time, which includes a new digital application, a new look for desktop users and additional online services for personal and business banking.

The customer response has been positive, and Birmingham is pleased with the progress.

Under the new digital platform, Five Star customers are able to access their account information, conduct transactions and be provided more on-the-go access to Five Star Bank digital banking from their computer, tablet or mobile device.

Those new online offerings include a dashboard that allows customers to establish a direct connection to their monthly bills and make payments in one place, as well as CardSwap, a tool to update the payment method on many subscription services.

There are also online financial tools to help with budgeting. Upcoming options will also be available including SendMoney, which allows customers to send money to others.

The digital platform also offers interactive tutorials and an online user guide to help customers with the transition.

Five Star is also looking at ways it does business post COVID-19 with an emphasis on social distancing and safety measures for both customers and employees, he says.

“It is more critical than ever for a local community bank to fulfill its role and take care of its customers, the community and our associates,” Birmingham says.

He notes that Five Star will continue to transition to the new normal. And while there will continue to be an emphasis on, and increased popularity of, online banking, there will still be a need for personal interaction at bank branches.

“We will work on ways to embrace that balance between the personal interaction at branches and the increased digital capabilities we offer,” he says.


Mary Kate Loftus, director of digital banking for M&T Bank Corp., also notes online banking is up during the COVID-19 outbreak.

M&T breaks digital banking down into three categories.

The first is enrollment, which includes those who sign up for digital banking services. The second is digital activity, which is when customers log into their accounts for things such as checking their balances or transferring money. The third is digital engagement, which is when people use digital banking as their primary source of banking.

Enrollment is up some 40 percent from the 60 days prior to the pandemic, Loftus says, and she adds that number continues to increase.

Digital engagement is also up, as is digital activity, she says, noting the bank’s Money Smart tool — which allows users to plan their budgets and track spending — has seen a 33 percent increase in usage.

M&T employees are also helping with online learning for customers, Loftus says.

Employees at the bank branches will distribute information on online options to customers who use the drive-through services and are also available to speak over the phone with customers who need further assistance. M&T also has a customer call center.

There are also online demos that allow users to complete a trial run of an online service before they complete an actual transaction.

The bank has also added some online and mobile features recently that can help with things such as recurring transactions and providing information on topics that directly relate to a customer’s needs, whether it be saving for retirement or paying down debt.

“Our goal is to make it easier for customers to manage their money and access products when and where they need them,” Loftus says.


Caytie Bowser, vice president/director, product development and management at ESL Federal Credit Union, says the credit union has seen its biggest increase in online and mobile usage among its customers during the pandemic.

She notes daily average logins increased 26 percent in April compared to March for personal online and mobile banking.

Also, when the first round of government stimulus check deposits went out in mid-April, ESL’s daily website traffic increased between 114 percent and 140 percent over the daily averages from January through early March of this year.

ESL recently added to its online and mobile offerings, as well. In April, the credit union launched online and mobile capabilities for opening personal checking and savings accounts.

The efforts are having a big impact, Bowser says, noting that over 500 accounts have been opened digitally in the past month since the service was launched.

ESL will continue to offer new digital offerings to customers, and Bowser says there are online demos and employees at the call center who can help customers with any questions they may have on using such tools.

“We will continue to provide services that enhance what customers can do online and make it easier for them,” Bowser says.

The credit union has also begun to look at what steps it will take when stay-at-home restrictions begin to lift, and Bowser believes the process of returning to a new normal will be gradual.

Moving forward, Bowser agrees there has to be a balance between in-person transactions and the growing use of digital applications.

“We will do the best we can to make sure the two complement each other,” she says.

Andrea Deckert is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Local banks well stocked to survive, back up customers

Banks might want to tweak Arby’s catch phrase.

Instead of “We have the meats,” they could be spreading their message of calm in the face of  COVID-19-related economic downturn by saying “We have the money.” 

While other companies were announcing layoffs and furloughs because of a sudden drop in economic activity, Tompkins Bank of Castile announced it is giving essential branch employees a 25 percent wage hike and providing a loan program for other costs they might be incurring due to the pandemic, such as loss of a spouse’s job. Buffalo-based M&T Bank this week also announced a 15 percent wage hike for its front-line employees for the duration of the health crisis. 

With branches closed to walk-in business, you’d think banks would be laying people off, too, but they’re not, saying they’re an essential business and need their staff—while taking precautions—to continue to provide customers access to capital. Even though they’re not seeing as many people in person, they’re dealing with a crush of phone calls as people try to sort out payments and seek deferrals, say local bankers. And they continue to allow in-person visits, but only by appointment.

Virtually all local banks and credit unions have given the ax to customer fees, including those for late loan payments or bounced checks; promised quick $5,000 personal loans; agreed to defer loan and mortgage payments for those in need; and issued individual guidance for their wealth management clientele.  

CNB's Frank H. Hamlin III
CNB’s Frank H. Hamlin III

“If it’s a fee we’re waiving it. If it’s a deferment, we’re granting it,” said Frank H. Hamlin III, president and CEO of Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Co. “We’re deferring principal and interest on mortgage loans…to allow people to focus on what’s important.”

 With fewer payments, and less interest coming in, how does a bank survive? The quick answer is reserves. 

After the economic crisis of 2008 in which the federal government had to bail out banks (most local banks didn’t take the bailout), banking regulators started requiring even greater amounts of money held in reserve than ever before. 

The same goes for federal credit unions. 

“We have different charter, but we also maintain reserves,” said Faheem Masood, president of ESL Federal Credit Union. “We are extremely well capitalized, one of the best capitalized credit unions in the country.”

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

Besides the floor on reserves that the federal government requires, raised since 2008, ESL has always been conservative about its reserves, he said. As a result, “We are well, well, well above the reserves required by the regulators.”

So the banks and credit unions have the ability to take a hit caused by people failing to pay back loans on time or defaulting altogether. 

“It makes sense that the entire community is going to have to grunt through this and we will too. That’s our role in this community,” Hamlin said. “Our income will go down and that’s OK.”

Financial institutions generally were in a better situation before this health crisis hit than before the lending crisis of 2008, said Martin K. Birmingham, president and CEO of Five Star Bank. 

Five Star's Martin K. Birmingham
Five Star’s Martin K. Birmingham

“Relative to 2008, the banks are all much stronger than they were,” Birmingham said. In fact, as they entered 2020, the outlook was really quite good, with reasonable growth. “We made plans for March that are no longer relevant.”

That was true for financial institutions generally, Hamlin said. “ For the most part, all banks are well positioned… to go ahead and blunt some of the effects of this.” Similar to Five Star, the bank has more reserves than required, owing to an adjustment they didn’t make when the corporate tax rate declined. “My team had our eyebrows raised on that. We didn’t restructure around the new tax requirement because we figured the new tax would be taken away.” 

Unlike 2008, when a crash followed a mortgage crisis of Wall Street’s own making, this crisis is one that squarely hits Main Street, Birmingham noted. Efforts to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus are causing businesses to close, lay off employees and potentially go out of business. 

“It’s clear that our federal government is going to follow through with a program that is aimed to address the impacts,” Birmingham said. “We’re starting to receive guidance and communication from our regulators in terms of actions we can take to support and continue to support consumers and businesses.”

Indeed, the Federal Reserve has reduced interest rates on loans, and told banks they have the cash to back them if they need more liquidity.  

Hamlin said, “The Federal Reserve and federal agencies that oversee us have pretty much been backing these plays.” They’ve said banks should offer deferments and the Fed will “do whatever is necessary for us to calm people down. We can bring down the noise level on that.” As for the accounting and the regulations, Hamlin said, “We’ll figure out the regulations. We’ll figure out that in the background.”

Masood added,”The Federal Reserve has been very aggressive in putting together actions that have worked in 2008, adding liquidity into the market to make sure the markets freely operate.”  

To reassure customers, Hamlin made a video letting them know that the bank is there to help. It’s available on CNB’s website and has been airing on local television stations. 

Birmingham said he hopes federal regulators will also allow more reporting flexibility for banks so they won’t get dinged at the regulatory level for allowing more customers than usual to be delinquent on their payments. If those changes aren’t made, ”that would mean the bank would take the loan and would have to increase its risk profile and therefore allocate more capital to it and potentially change its earnings or ability to earn interest revenue off of that loan.”

All three local bankers stressed it’s important for consumers to contact them if they are in financial distress.  

“In the coming month as we cycle through payment dates, that will become more apparent,” said Masood. “We’re trying to encourage customers to let us know that and we’ll be taking action to defer payments.”  

 The bankers also noted the important role financial institutions play in local economies by keeping capital flowing even as the financial system stutters and slows. And while all sounded confident about this negative cycle being followed by a positive one just as has happened countless times before, they also said the depths of the financial crisis are still unknown. None wanted to make firm economic predictions, given the still-developing nature of the crisis.

“We’re as a society and as a country really in uncharted territory in terms of what can happen,” Birmingham said. “We are really in unprecedented territory. Not since World War II  have we had such a dramatic need for collaboration.” Nevertheless, he said he could envision a turnaround by the end of the year, assuming the health crisis doesn’t last too long. 

Masood offered, “Even in the worst of circumstances, I think through a number of cycles, we have shown our economy is pretty resilient to bounce back.”

Both Five Star and ESL have been around for generations, but Canandaigua National is the granddaddy of local banks. 

“We’ve been in existence 135 years,” Hamlin said. “We’ve been through wars, the S&L crisis, every stock bust you can imagine. The fact is, there will be commerce. There are people who are buying things and people selling things.” 

Even the plunging stock market, which has reduced the value of investment portfolios, now offers opportunities for those in a position to buy, his officers added. 

Banks may actually grow during this time because of the calm stance they’re taking, offered Vincent K. Yacuzzo, chief financial officer at CNB. 

“Long-term our organization will come out stronger,” Yacuzzo said. “We’re connected to the local community unlike some other larger institutions. By tripling down on communications, we’re strengthening relationships.”

Hamlin dismissed economic predictions in favor of focusing on the here and now of the crisis. 

“Why don’t we calm down and let’s focus one step at a time: Make sure everyone gets fed and cared for,” he said. “If we all agree to do that, everything else will fall into place.”

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275.

Geva cancels or postpones remaining shows of season

Geva Theatre Center is postponing or canceling all remaining productions of the 2019-2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization’s productions of “Once” and “Cry It Out” that were running when attendance restrictions were put in place will be available to view soon on the streaming channel BroadwayHD.

The world premiere production of “Looks Like Pretty,” which was in rehearsal until March 14, has been suspended. The theatre hopes to present the production in July. “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?,” the final scheduled production of the Fielding Studio Series, will be rescheduled for another time next season, officials said Monday. The production of “Vietgone” that was to close out the season has had to be canceled.

Events such as the Regional Writers Showcase, the Young Writers Showcase and the final play of the Hornets’ Nest series also have been canceled. But amid the postponements and cancelations, Geva officials said the organization will present 10 major productions and two festivals during the 2020-2021 season, the non-profit theatre’s 48th year of making exceptional professional theatre in Rochester.

ESL Federal Credit Union has sponsored the Wilson Stage Series since Geva’s 2014-2015 season and will continue its commitment as the sponsor for the 2020-2021 Season. Dawn Lipson will serve as honorary season producer.

“We are so thankful to all of our patrons for the outpouring of support we have seen,” said Geva Executive Director Christopher Mannelli. “At this time, donations and support from the Rochester community are critical to bringing this next season to life on our stage.”

The Wilson Stage will feature a celebration of air-guitar competition, a fresh take on a classic tale of horror, a new comedy about scandal and selling enlightenment, a Tony Award-winning musical with Caribbean flair, a thriller set in 2013 Kabul and a musical celebration of country legend Johnny Cash.

“We all want to come together to celebrate the special experience of live, professional theatre,” said Geva Artistic Director Mark Cuddy. “The new season holds great joy and hope within its varied selections and now, more than ever, it will provide a gathering place to build community once again.”

Geva also announced the return of the theatre’s production of Dickens’ classic tale of redemption, the KeyBank production of A Christmas Carol, Rochester’s favorite holiday tradition.

Geva will present a full line-up in the Fielding Stage throughout 2020-2021, sponsored in part by the Gouvernet Arts Fund at The Rochester Area Community Foundation: nurturing new plays in the Festival of New Theatre, and an eclectic range of contemporary plays in the Fielding Studio Series. In addition, the Fielding Stage will again be a venue for the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival.

“We are fortunate to have Geva Theatre Center in our community because its impactful, thought-provoking productions provide exposure to theatre for so many,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union. “High-quality, affordable theatre is not always so accessible. But for more than 47 years, Geva has been instrumental to the arts and cultural experience in Rochester, ensuring that theatre can be enjoyed by all. ESL is honored to support such a vital community institution that exposes so many to the arts and culture that Greater Rochester is known for.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

ESL’s Masood named to Federal Reserve’s advisory council

Faheem Masood
Faheem Masood

Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union, has been named to the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Depository Institution Advisory Council.

The national council provides input to the Federal Reserve Board on the economy, lending conditions and other issues and meets with the board twice a year in Washington, DC.

Appointees to the council come from local advisory councils at the Federal Reserve’s twelve banks. Each local council provides a single member to the national council. Masood is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s advisory council. Another local banker, Martin K. Birmingham, president and CEO of Five Star Bank, also sits on that nine-member local council.

ESL celebrates its 100th anniversary as a financial institution this year. The credit union based in Rochester has 369,000 members and a network including 22 branches.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Paychex, ESL and ConServe lauded for training programs again

Three local companies have landed once again on Training magazine’s 2020 list for Training Top 125 Organizations.

The companies are:

  • Paychex, the company that provides human resources, payroll and other services to business, ranked No. 14. It was No. 12 in 2019.
  • ESL Federal Credit Union, ranked No. 17, the same as in 2019.
  • ConServe, a collections agency in Fairport, ranked No. 41 on the list. It was No. 57 last year.

Winners were announced at a gala held at the Training 2020 Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., Monday night. No. 1 on the list for the second year in a row was Dollar General.

ESL has appeared on the list for 14 years.

Maureen Wolfe, ESL’s senior vice president/director of human resources and community impact, said, “It’s an honor to be named once again to the prestigious Training Top 125 list, and affirms our commitment to delivering a superior employee experience through our extensive learning and development offerings.”

Last year Paychex was singled out for a best practices award, too. It has been on the list for 19 consecutive years.

ConServe, also known as Continental Service Group, Inc.,  has been on the list for six consecutive years.

According to Training, winning companies are selected after a review of their overall training programs, budget for training, tuition reimbursement, training infrastructure and delivery, evaluations/metrics, and human resources. All companies are eligible as long as they are not in the business of selling training products or services.

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ESL issues largest dividend in 24 years

ESL Federal Credit union will issue $20 million in owners’ dividends Friday, Jan. 17, – the largest in the 24 years the credit union has been providing dividends.

“We are committed to living our purpose of ‘helping our community thrive and prosper,’ and we couldn’t do that without the support of our loyal members and community, and the hard work and dedication of our employees,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL.

Individual credit union members’ dividends will vary, depending on the size of their average monthly savings or loan balances, the kinds of services they use at the credit union, and the amount of their activity, such as debit card usage.

Members can go on the credit union’s web page for more information about the dividend and use a special calculator to estimate it.

ESL began 100 years ago as a savings and loan serving the employees of Eastman Kodak Co., but became a credit union 24 years ago. In that time, the credit union has issued a total of $150 million in owner’s dividends, according to the institution.

ESL has its headquarters in downtown Rochester and maintains 22 branches.

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George Eastman Museum breaks ground on new visitor center, entrance

The George Eastman Museum on Monday broke ground on the Thomas Tischer Visitor Center, a project several years in the making.

A rendering of the new entrance for the Eastman Museum
A rendering of the new entrance for the Eastman Museum

The new visitor center will be funded through several sources, including a more than $1.5 million donation from retired Eastman Kodak Co. chemist Thomas Tischer. The museum also received a $1 million grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

Additionally, last summer, ESL Federal Credit Union acquired the naming rights to the entrance pavilion for $1 million, enabling the project to proceed.

“The Visitor Center project is a wonderful example of all that can be created through the combined resources of an individual benefactor, a community-minded corporation and New York State,” said Kevin Gavagan, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees. “We are here today because the foresight and generosity of these supporters have allowed us to initiate this transformative project, and we are most grateful.”

Tischer said he admired George Eastman and his accomplishments.

“I got to feeling it would be nice to have some accomplishment relative to a legacy, and the need for a new entrance was real,” Tischer said Monday.

Bruce Barnes, the museum’s Ron and Donna Fielding Director, met Tischer shortly after joining the museum seven years ago. Tischer pointed to the exterior doors of the cafe and said, “Don’t you think the museum entrance should be there?”

A project rendering of the entire George Eastman Museum visitor center and pavilion.
A rendering of the entire George Eastman Museum visitor center and pavilion.

In fact, in 1989, when the museum underwent major renovations, it was intended that a new parking lot would be constructed in the northwest corner of the property, closer to the entrance, but budgetary constraints upended that plan.

Tischer’s donation and the NYSCA grant will enable the reconfiguration of the Eastman Museum’s entrance and visitor center.

“During my seven-year tenure, our institution has appropriately placed the highest priority on the restoration of George Eastman’s landmark home and on upgrading the storage environments for our world-class collections,” Barnes said. “Yet, about three years ago Tom approached me and said he wanted to make a meaningful contribution to advancing the George Eastman Museum during his lifetime, and we agreed that we would work together to find a way to make the museum more welcoming and easily accessible, in part by relocating the main entrance so that it could be closer to the parking lot.”

The ESL Federal Credit Union Pavilion will serve as the museum’s new entrance, next to the Dryden Theatre. A new admissions desk, gathering places and renovated education and meeting hall will greet guests, as will a more mission-focused gift shop and a relocated café that includes seating in the historic Palm House.

The ESL Federal Credit Union Pavilion and Thomas Tischer and Thomas Tischer Visitor Center.
The ESL Federal Credit Union Pavilion.

The pavilion will be a glass-and-steel structure in front of the west façade of the one-story building, which originally served as Eastman’s garage and currently is the location of the museum’s café and shop. The structure will retain the historic façade of the garage.

The visitor center was designed by Flynn Battaglia Architects of Buffalo, while the Pike Co. served as general contractor.

Monday’s groundbreaking was attended by a number of local community and business leaders including Mara Manus, executive director of NYSCA; Monroe County Executive Adam Bello; Rochester Deputy Mayor James Smith; and Rep. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, among others.

ESL President and CEO Faheem Masood noted that 2020 marks ESL’s centennial and said that the organization’s purpose is to help the community thrive and prosper.

“At ESL we recognize the important role the Museum plays in our community. It brings the history of photography and film to life for the world to see and it allows us to celebrate the life of a man who did so much in the name of benefiting the Greater Rochester community,” Masood said.  “The impact of this project will be a welcome enhancement for the arts community and a transformation for the museum that will create a more immersive experience at one of Rochester’s most iconic institutions.”

The project is expected to be completed in July.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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ESL work/scholarship program for MCC students open now

Applications are now open for Monroe Community College students seeking work and scholarships from ESL Federal Credit Union.

The deadline for the ESL/MCC Scholars program is Oct. 18.

Students in MCC’s School of Business & Entrepreneurial Studies are eligible for the program, which provides financial assistance for educational costs, and a part-time job providing experience in banking and financial services.

To be considered, applicants must have a minimum grade-point average of 2.5 and have permanent work eligibility status in the United States.

The program will accept up to five students in November, with orientation and training scheduled for January 2020. The recipients will receive a $1,000 scholarship for a semester and a part-time job as a teller in an ESL branch or the downtown headquarters.

“The ESL/MCC Scholars program opens doors for Monroe Community College students interested in careers in banking and financial services,” said MCC Vice President of Student Services Lloyd Homes. “In addition to earning while they learn, students gain valuable, professional experience working for a leading employer in our community.”

Maureen Wolfe, senior vice president, Human Resources & Community Impact, ESL Federal Credit Union, also sits in the board of the MCC Foundation. She said, “This earn-and-learn scholars program is a great way to support talent development in our community. Students have shared how much they appreciate the opportunity to work with mentors and gain professional working experience through this program.”

Applications are available online at

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