Woman of Influence

By Dave Bertola

Mary Grace Welch watches as National Grid customer Steve Bystran demonstrates how the machinery works at his company, Lakeward Spirits

Whether it’s working with a new company that wants to redevelop an old building or a farmer looking to upgrade equipment, Mary Grace Welch is right there, working alongside them. When customers are looking to transform ideas into realities, Welch is often the first person they call.

Welch is National Grid’s lead economic development representative, and covers nine counties throughout western New York. She has developed relationships with those in a wide range of industries with an equally wide range of needs while overseeing the company’s economic development programs. These include a portfolio of grants designed to incentivize business development and job creation throughout western New York.

In 2016, her customers’ projects were bolstered by more than $5 million in available National Grid economic development grants. The funds were part of $13 million – $2 million more than the company’s goal – granted corporate-wide that year. Since 2011, when she began working in economic development, Welch has increased the level of grant activity by 45 percent.

Welch began her National Grid career in 1983 in the mail room. Today, she gets satisfaction knowing that she has helped someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to finance a project.

“Some companies are unable to get a loan if National Grid wasn’t partnering with them,” she said. “We can make a difference in funding, and that’s most rewarding because our programs can push a project over the finish line.”

Welch recently earned a gold award as part of National Grid’s Appreciate program for demonstrating a new leadership quality, “Start and finish with the customer in mind.” She also was recently named a “Women of Influence” by regional business journal Buffalo Business First. In September, Welch and 25 other women were honored for their leadership and contributions to the community.

Welch was grateful for the recognition, and for the opportunity to represent National Grid. She added that other partners play a key role in providing grants, and that she couldn’t do her job without help from entities such as Empire State Development Corp., Invest Buffalo Niagara and various county industrial development agencies.

At National Grid, she said she receives support from so many, including regional manager Ken Kujawa, customer facilities engineer Kevin Drozynski and Art Hamlin, director of economic development and corporate citizenship.

A local bank sponsoring the event offered Welch and her fellow honorees to select charities that would receive $1,000 donations in their names.

“That to me was the best part of the recognition and a nice, unexpected surprise.” said Welch of the donation. She selected Buffalo City Mission as her charity.

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