Loudoun tops the nation in 25-to-34-year-olds with hefty incomes

Loudoun and Arlington counties are among several of Washington's suburbs where a growing number of young, high-earning professionals reside. Even during an economic downturn, many of them have money to burn.
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kunal Shah is just 28 and already living large. He jets monthly to such fun places as Vegas or Montreal. He owns the D.C. nightclub Eyebar, a Mercedes-Benz and a Denali SUV.

But instead of living in a hip city loft, his main crib is a staid townhouse in Ashburn.

Suburban Loudoun County might seem like an unlikely stamping ground for an affluent twentysomething such as Shah. But a recent Nielsen study showed that the county boasts the nation's highest concentration of residents 25 to 34 with salaries of $100,000 or more -- about 10 percent of the population vs. 2 percent nationally -- with Arlington County a close second.

The region as a whole is increasingly a magnet for the young and wealthy. Nielsen estimates that 15 of the top 50 counties with a high concentration of young, high-income earners are Washington area communities, up from eight in 1990.

"The wealth there is astonishing," said Eric Trump, 25, who oversees the redevelopment of a Loudoun golf course that his father, Donald Trump, purchased this year. "And you're only going to see that grow."

Like Shah, many of these affluent young people are self-made entrepreneurs, high-tech workers from the Dulles corridor or employees of federal contracting firms that have flourished even in the downturn. A significant number live outside the city's urban core, either in condominiums near Metro lines in Arlington or Bethesda or rattling around in large, single-family houses bought as investment properties before the real estate bust sent their values plummeting. Yet with their incomes little unchanged in the past year or so, these people still have disposable income to burn. That's why some call Shah's community Cashburn.

Mike Mancini, Nielsen's vice president of data product management and an Arlington resident, called the results "striking." His company parsed Census Bureau and other data from January.

"No other metro market in the country had that many of their counties in the top rankings. This was a bit surprising, even to a local like myself," said Mancini, 46. He attributes the region's emergence as a magnet for young, high-income earners to the abundance of medical, engineering, technology and information companies in the region, above and beyond the government.

"It is the employees of these private-sector companies that are likely earning the income for these young and wealthy households, rather than the federal workers themselves," Mancini said. "The competitive demand for project managers and other technical professionals has driven up salaries."

In Loudoun, the 10,494 households in this demographic, about 10 percent of the county's population, are about evenly split between married couples with kids vs. singles and married couples without kids.

The couples with kids might argue that a two-income household of $100,000 for a family of four in this market hardly makes them rich, noted John B. Wood, chief executive of the information technology firm Telos Corp. and chairman of Loudoun's Economic Development Commission.

Sex and the suburbs

But the singles and childless couples, about 53 percent of Loudoun's young, affluent population, can afford to buy luxury cars or frequent upscale shopping malls such as Dulles Town Center and Tysons Galleria. The BMW dealership in Sterling has turned to marketing through social media such as Facebook and Twitter to attract younger clientele. The same crowd has turned Saturday afternoons at the county's many wineries into " 'Sex and the City' in the vineyards," as one onlooker described it, with young wine-tasters dressed to the nines lolling on blankets on the lawn.

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