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Dulles, Clearly On Tech's Radar

Airport Anchors Growth In Northern Virginia Corridor

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page E01

One of the nice things about locating a business around Washington Dulles International Airport in the 1960s and 1970s was the ambiance: Plenty of green space, fresh air and not a traffic jam in sight.

The area, about 30 miles west of downtown Washington in Loudoun County, had an identity crisis, though.

Charles and Steve Kuhn moved JK Moving & Storage Inc. to Loudoun County in search of more space. (Len Spoden For The Washington Post)

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Dulles, opened in 1962, was a much-maligned underachiever that offered spotty service to U.S. destinations and a bare-bones schedule of international flights. Even worse for identity-conscious executives thinking of setting up operations near the airport: Few people outside of Northern Virginia had even heard of places such as Sterling and Chantilly.

"This was Simple Town," said Stephen S. Fuller, a regional economist at George Mason University in Fairfax.

Today, Simple Town has become Boom Town, fueled by the likes of MCI Inc., Oracle Corp., Orbital Sciences Corp., America Online Inc., Nextel Communications Inc. and thousands of other companies that have transformed the Dulles corridor.

The corridor -- stretching from Reston in the east to Ashburn to the west; from Route 7 in the north to Route 50 in the south -- has become a driving force in Washington's economy, anchored by the fifth-busiest airport in the United States for scheduled arrivals and departures.

The corridor's growth was shaped, in large part, by the region's status as the nation's capital, where billions of dollars of government contract dollars are annually up for grabs, experts say. "The presence of the federal government, the world's biggest buyer, is a huge factor," said Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force, a private nonprofit that promotes aviation services in the region.

The Dulles area is, quite simply, the most convenient spot for many government contractors, particularly those that require long-haul jet service not available at Reagan National. Case in point: defense contractor Titan Corp., which, from its offices off the Dulles Toll Road in Reston, is within easy range of the Pentagon or a nonstop flight to its headquarters in San Diego.

"That's the fuel on the fire: the money that is coming from Uncle Sam," Fuller said. "The outsourcing by the government began [in the early 1980s] under the Reagan administration. Northern Virginia companies had about $2 billion worth of federal contracts then, and last year it was $22 billion."

But the local governments that bookend the airport -- Loudoun and Fairfax counties -- also have played big roles in attracting companies. In the late 1990s, Loudoun spent $1 million and the state of Virginia $3 million to build part of Route 607, the Loudoun County Parkway, which leads to MCI's headquarters in Ashburn, according to county documents.

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