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Dulles, Clearly On Tech's Radar

The 1995 opening of the Dulles Greenway, a toll road linking Dulles with Leesburg, cut commuting time from Loudoun, which this year had the largest population growth, by percentage, of any county in the United States.

"Without the highway funding, the airport would have been pretty isolated and this kind of high quality, class A development, including the kind of stuff that you see at AOL and MCI, wouldn't have happened," Fuller said.

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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AOL may be the best-known example of a company that moved further west in Washington's western suburbs in search of a larger headquarters with room to grow. In 1996, the Internet giant moved from Vienna, just east of Reston, to a campus near Dulles Airport, in Loudoun.

Three years earlier, a much smaller company, JK Moving & Storage Inc., headed west from Merrifield, in central Fairfax, to a 15-acre site in Loudoun near Dulles. "We'd outgrown our space," said Charles Kuhn, the company's chief executive. "At the time we thought moving out to Sterling was really on the leading edge. But some people accused us of being on the bleeding edge. I mean, the business park we moved into was almost empty. We were a little lonely out there and some people thought we were crazy."

Kuhn said the acreage he bought 11 years ago for $1.875 million was recently was appraised at $13 million. "Being near Dulles was a big factor in the decision to move out here," Kuhn said. "We have a contract with the State Department to move their foreign service people, and we're in and out of Dulles every day."

Coveted Address

As the Dulles corridor's prestige has grown, Loudoun has offered fewer financial incentives to attract companies, said Rosenstrauch, the county's economic development director.

"We feel the airport itself -- and the presence of the federal government, which helps sustain our economy -- are enormous incentives to locate here," he said. "Our biggest incentives now are getting all the basics -- good government, good schools -- right for the people who come to live and work in the county."

But one perk -- delivered by a now-retired Loudoun economic development official -- won't soon be forgotten.

In the mid 1980s, Pam Treadwell learned that businesses in Sterling were having an identity crisis.

"They told me: 'Nobody knows where Sterling is. Our clients don't even know where we are,' " she said in a telephone interview from her home in Florida.

Treadwell could relate. Even in the 1970s, "my relatives didn't know where Dulles International was," she said. "I remember relatives getting ready to visit me, asking why they had to fly into Dallas."

Treadwell began a campaign -- more like a crusade -- to get permission from the U.S. Postal Service to use "Dulles, Virginia" as an address, though Dulles was neither a village nor town nor city.

"I thought: The airport is going to grow, and soon everyone will know where Dulles is," she said. "So I worked with the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, Federal Express, the telephone companies, to give Sterling businesses the choice of being in either Sterling, Va. or in Dulles, Va."

In 1993, Dulles, Va. 20166 quickly became one of the most preferred addresses in the corridor. And, today, AOL and Orbital Sciences are among the Sterling companies that have laid claim to that address.

"Companies want to be associated with being in the vicinity of the airport," said Bennett, the airports authority CEO. "Dulles, you know, has become a very recognizable name in the aviation -- and, indeed, the global -- community."

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