Buffett's hot on Buffalo, and happy to promote it on YouTube

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Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2013 12:00 am

Omaha isn't the only town Warren Buffett likes.

He makes a YouTube pitch for Empire State Development, the government agency that promotes economic growth in New York, specifically touting Buffalo, where Buffett has owned the Buffalo News since 1977.

In the promotional advertisement, former Buffalo Bills football star Jim Kelly says, “Welcome to the new Buffalo.”

Says Buffett, identified as a Buffalo Business Investor: “Where New York State is investing $1 billion to attract and grow business.”

“Where companies like Geico are investing in technology and finance,” says the gecko who is the spokes-reptile for Geico, the auto insurance division of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

At the end of the 30-second spot, Buffett adds, “Welcome to the new Buffalo.”

Clock gets slow start

If runners felt especially speedy after the Invest In Yourself 5k race, held the day after the May 4 Berkshire shareholders meeting, there's a reason.

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The digital clock suspended over the finish line had started about 30 seconds after Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire, fired the starter's gun across a downtown parking lot, according to Competitor Group, the race organizer.

Most of the 2,000 or so runners probably never noticed. Their official times were recorded by a computer when the racing chips they were wearing moved across the finish line's chip detector.

And only the fastest runners were near the front of the pack when the run started, followed by several waves of progressively slower competitors.

In case you want to beat your time in next year's race, the finishing times posted online were accurate.

Cartoon winner thrilled

A Buffett-autographed drawing by World-Herald editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba raised about $3,500 for Youth Emergency Services, an Omaha group that helps homeless and at-risk young people become self-sufficient.

The cartoon, which ran when Berkshire bought the Omaha newspaper in 2011, recently arrived in Annapolis, Md., where Cullen Murray is a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch.

“I'm thrilled,” said Murray, who bought two $10 raffle tickets while waiting in an overflow tent for a seat at Gorat's Steak House the evening before the shareholders meeting. He had just arrived in Omaha and was chatting with New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin when a woman sold him the tickets.

Murray didn't look closely at the drawing but knew it had a Buffett autograph. He asked about the organization and decided it was worthwhile. “I just considered it a donation and figured there's no chance I'm going to win.”

Koterba had contributed the copy of the cartoon (Buffett has the original) for a silent auction last summer. The cartoon wasn't getting much action, so a friend of YES bought it and gave it back, suggesting a raffle during shareholder festivities, said Kristin Neemann, community relations manager for YES.

Gorat's owner Gene Dunn arranged the raffle, Buffett's grandson Howard drew the winning ticket and Murray got a cellphone call telling him he had won.

“I just about drove off the road,” he said. “It was extremely exciting.”

He plans to rearrange the artwork on his office walls to give the cartoon more prominence, moving a framed stock certificate for the Joseph Kennedy Trust that was signed by Ethel Kennedy.

“I'm definitely a Buffett-head,” Murray said, and a shareholder for several years, along with some of his clients. “I come to hear the message and undo the untruths that we all become susceptible to in the business world. And now I've got a signed picture, which is priceless in my book.”

Request of a 'wise uncle'

It was raining, blustery and cold, and few people noticed the banner that Nebraskans for Peace held outside the CenturyLink Center because the doors were already open and people attending the Berkshire meeting were rushing inside, heads down against the weather.

The group already had paid for the 12-foot banner, so about a dozen members of the group decided to display it outside Berkshire's office last week, urging Buffett, “Warren, The World needs YOU to LEAD — Speak Out about the Threat of Climate Change.”

“We aren't protesters,” and aren't criticizing Berkshire, coordinator Tim Rinne of Lincoln said. “We're appealers,” asking Buffett to help drive home the importance of the climate change issue. “Nobody's going to listen to me, but the world regards Warren Buffett as a wise uncle.”

During the shareholders meeting, Buffett was asked about the risks that climate change poses to Berkshire's insurers. “The climate is getting warmer,” he said. “My general feeling is there is a reasonable chance that people who are worried about warming are right. But I don't know enough to speak as an expert.”

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1080, steve.jordon@owh.com, twitter.com/buffettOWH

REPLAY: May 14's Warren Watch chat transcript

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