LOUDOUN COUNTY

Hoping for a Boom in Biomedical Research

Loudoun County has one of the highest office vacancy rates in the Washington area, but it's coming down as more businesses move into one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

Last year 21.1 percent of the office space in this once-rural country was vacant, highest in the region. This year it's 15.6 percent. Much bigger next-door neighbor Fairfax County had a 15.8 percent rate.

"The big story in Loudoun is that the strong housing market in the western suburbs has encouraged more businesses to move out to Loudoun," said Brian S. Benninghoff, a partner at Buchanan Properties LLC, a Gaithersburg-based developer.

Loudoun has the fastest-growing population in the nation, the Census Bureau said. So there's greater demand for service-oriented businesses such as doctors' offices, real estate brokers said.

Office space under construction in Loudoun increased by 22 percent over the past year, to 1 million feet this year from 780,000 square feet in the second quarter of 2003, CoStar Group Inc. said. Most of the development has been in the Route 7 corridor that runs northwest through the county.

But the largest project -- 750,000 square feet -- was not driven by demand for consumer services. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plans to open its Janelia Farm Research Campus in 2006, and the county has high hopes that it will spark a boom in biomedical research.

Loudoun is the smallest commercial real estate market in the region with 9.8 million square feet of office space, up from 9.7 million last year.

-- Bill Brubaker