Good News on Bond Ratings

Loudoun County just received some big hugs and kisses from Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, New York-based agencies that rate the creditworthiness of companies, institutions and municipalities.

Moody's reaffirmed Loudoun's top-tier Aaa bond rating. Fitch upgraded Loudoun from AA-plus to AAA. And each agency served up reasons why Loudoun deserved its highest rating.

Among them:

* Tax dollars galore. Moody's described Loudoun's growing $50 billion tax base as "diverse with a strong housing market and considerable commercial activity including high-technology, telecommunications, defense, health care and biotechnology."

Fitch agreed, noting that Loudoun's "tax base growth continues to be strong, averaging 17.7% annually over the past decade, reflecting the pace of residential and commercial development, as well as property appreciation. Building permit valuations averaged more than $1 billion over the past four years."

* Lots of new jobs. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn -- scheduled to open next year -- is projected to add about 300 high-paying jobs to the area over the next couple of years, according to Moody's. The campus will support "development of ancillary and spin-off industries in the health sciences and biotechnology sectors," Moody's said.

Fitch noted that "local employment opportunities are expanding, in part to meet the service needs of the burgeoning population, but also in relation to Dulles International Airport . . . and federal homeland security and contractor spending."

* Large employers. "Although a sale of MCI, a major private employer, to Verizon is pending," Fitch wrote, "the Internet backbone assets of the company are likely to be a lasting presence in the county. The AOL division of Time Warner and United Airlines, which operates a hub at [Dulles], are both showing stability after highly publicized financial difficulties."

* Low unemployment. Moody's cited the March numbers -- 2 percent in Loudoun compared with 3.4 percent statewide.

* Good fiscal management. Moody's said it "anticipates that the experienced management team's history of prudent fiscal management will support maintenance of strong fiscal flexibility." The bond rater also said it believes "the maintenance of ample reserves will act as an important buffer in the face of rapid economic growth." Moody's noted that the county ended fiscal 2004 "with a $31 million surplus, bringing the General Fund balance to a substantial $119 million, or 18.9% of General Fund revenues."

* Location. Moody's noted Loudoun's "favorable location" near Fairfax and Montgomery counties, which also have Aaa ratings.

New Software Customers

Dulles-based JPMorgan Chase Vastera Inc. disclosed Monday that it had sold software that helps importers and exporters comply with domestic and international laws to 10 companies. The software helps companies avoid noncompliance penalties by screening customer and partner names against more than 40 international "denied party lists," according to Vastera.

Some of Vastera's newest customers include Airbus North America Customer Services Inc., Booz Allen Hamilton, Calgon Carbon Corp., Hood Technology, Microvision Inc. and Premio Computer Inc.

"Due to increased regulatory scrutiny in the global trade arena, JPMorgan Chase Vastera continues to see interest in our automated compliance screening technology," Bernie Hart, the head of Vastera's global products division, said in a news release. "By investing in a flexible tool that can be rapidly deployed to prevent the illegal shipment of goods, companies protect their trade interests and ensure the continued flow of their supply chain."

Helpful Hint

The Dulles Area Association of Realtors noted in its most recent newsletter to members that polls for the Virginia primary elections will open at 6 a.m. Tuesday. "All voters will be asked to choose either a Republican or Democratic ballot," the newsletter stated, "and since this is not Chicago, you can't choose both!"

-- BILL BRUBAKER

Have news about a business in Loudoun County? Send an e-mail to brubaker@washpost.com.