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WIRED: Pennsylvania’s “Wall Street West” delivers the pitch October 12, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, WIRED, Workforce.
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A wise person once said that every challenge is really an opportunity. For a real-world example of that, look no further than Pennsylvania.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government recommended that financial services companies establish backup sites and devise “business continuity” plans – with the goal of being able to resume the processing of financial transactions as early as two hours after an attack.

Boosters say northeastern Pennsylvania, some 80 miles west of New York, can help companies meet that goal. The region is far enough away that it would not be affected by an attack, but close enough to allow for real-time transmission of data over fiber-optic lines – a critical requirement of the financial sector.

Declaring “we’ve got your back,” state officials and a developer Tuesday sought to coax executives from Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and a dozen other financial services giants to establish backup operations in northeastern Pennsylvania as a way to safeguard their operations against terrorists.

Three helicopters whisked the executives from Manhattan to a resort in the Poconos, where they dined on filet and lobster and listened to a pitch for “Wall Street West,” an ambitious effort to build millions of square feet of office space and install hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable in as many as nine Pennsylvania counties.

The idea of moving economic development efforts forward – to develop a knowlege-intensive industry cluster – based at least in part on a clear-headed response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks…well, that’s darned close to brilliant in my book.


And the Pennsylvania leadership has their I’s dotted and T’s crossed. After flying the biggest names of Wall Street into the Poconos for a presentation on Wall Street West, they also had more than just the right location to offer:

The state has already pledged $30 million in grants and low-interest loans to the Penn Regional Business Center, the focus of Tuesday’s event. Simon said he is close to landing his first tenant, but declined to name the company.

The state also is expected to award a contract in November for the installation of hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable from New York to Pennsylvania, a process that could take a year to 18 months. Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department has awarded a $15 million grant to the Wall Street West initiative for workforce training.

Dennis Yablonsky, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, told the executives that grants, low-interest loans and tax credits could be made available to their companies.

“We will sit down with you and assemble packages of incentives as appropriate,” Yablonsky said. “We’re focused and serious about this.”

The implementation of WIRED across the country has so many combinations and permutations, all depending on the region. In Mississippi and Alabama, they’re considering how to turn themselves into an “enterprise-ready” workforce. In Indiana, they’re working on ways to better leverage the globally recognized of engineering-rich Purdue University for the benefit of the people of Indiana.

But Wall Street West appears to have had a concept in mind, one that would have gone forward with or without WIRED. WIRED is a huge boost (When would a $15 million gift not be a huge boost?), but it only made an attractive effort even more so.

In my experience with workforce/economic development programming, this model – using workforce programming to augment an existing concept – seems to be the most successful. Workforce is a component of economic development, and only rarely is it the driver. With that in mind, I will be less surprised at a positive outcome in Pennsylvania than in other WIRED regions.

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