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Wall Street West

The backup plan that wasn’t.

One of the less visible effects of 9/11 was the physical blow to the financial industry, which for a time displaced investment banks to New Jersey and midtown. The vulnerability of the city’s financial engine was suddenly thrown into relief, and Wall Street leaders began talking about the importance of having backup sites—places remote from Manhattan that were designed and staffed for disaster recovery and data backup.

In 2006, with federal money available for regional economic development, Northeastern Pennsylvania rose to the challenge. A group of nine counties looking for something to replace the coal and steel that had once driven their economies banded together to market themselves as Wall Street West [W2]. The idea was that the region could serve as Wall Street’s hard drive, and there was a good case to make for the location. It had a separate power grid, transportation system, and watershed from Manhattan. It was far enough away to be outside the blast radius of a small nuclear explosion, but close enough to fall within maximum distance for instantaneous data transmission over fiber-optic cables.

Job training began for financial support staff, and Wall Street West was on the verge of breaking ground to lay a $24 million fiber-optic-cable network. Its leaders just wanted to make sure that at least two major banks had committed to building data-storage centers before proceeding. Wall Street was interested. “We’d been having high-level discussions and site visits with major New York firms,” said Chad Paul of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which was overseeing the fiber-­­­optic-cable project. Then Wall Street East, in the form of Lehman Brothers, collapsed. Banks became more concerned with their short-term survival than with remote contingency plans. Wall Street in the Poconos died a quiet death. “It was a big disappointment,” Paul said, “but to build a disaster-recovery network and have no customers, we’d have wasted a ton of money.”


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