Loudoun Rated AAA

So what is Loudoun County, anyway?

Is it a suburb? Or is it an exurb, a community just beyond the suburbs of a big city, in this case the nation's capital?

In reaffirming its top-tier AAA bond rating to the county last week, Fitch Ratings called Loudoun a "historically rural county that has become a major metropolitan suburb."

Fitch, which rates the creditworthiness of companies, institutions and municipalities, said the AAA rating reflects Loudoun's "strong financial performance, sizable tax base, diversifying economy, high income levels, and moderate debt burden with manageable future capital needs even with rapid population growth."

Fitch upgraded Loudoun to AAA from AA-plus in June.

The agency also weighed in on how some large employers and industries are faring in the county.

"Although the merger of MCI, a major private employer, with Verizon is pending, the Internet backbone assets of the company are likely to remain a lasting presence in the county," Fitch said. "Furthermore, Fitch believes that both the AOL division of Time Warner and United Airlines, which operates a hub at IAD [Dulles International Airport] are showing stability after highly publicized financial difficulties.

"In addition, the recent bankruptcy announcement by Flyi, the parent company of Independence Air (a low-cost carrier with 3,400 employees whose headquarters are in the county and whose only hub is IAD) should have a negligible impact on airport operations even if it does not emerge successfully, according to industry experts.

"However, the airline has announced near-term layoffs of 600 employees. Even if all those laid off lived in the county, this represents one-half of one percent of the county's total labor force."

Ramping Up at Dulles

Beginning in mid-January, JetBlue Airways Corp. will offer 16 daily flights from Dulles International Airport. That includes existing service to San Diego, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif., and new service to Boston.


Doesn't Independence Air run as many as seven daily flights to Boston?


New York-based JetBlue seems to be betting that Independence won't be around to offer competition.

JetBlue, of course, didn't mention Independence in its recent news release announcing the expanded service at Dulles.

"Customers in Boston and Washington fly to each other's city more than any other destination," said David Neeleman, JetBlue's chief executive. "We thought it was time to introduce low fares and great service to these frequent flyers and make travel even more affordable and fun for customers in this busy market."

Chamber Honors

The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce recently announced the winners of its annual small-business awards.

BeckITSystems Inc., a Dulles-based information technology company, was named Loudoun's small business of the year.

Winners in the other categories were:

* Retail: Four Shabby Chicks, a Leesburg shop that sells "shabby chic" home furnishings.

* Technology: Image Matters LLC, a Leesburg IT and research firm.

* Service: Butler Consulting Group Inc., a Sterling accounting business.

* Agri/Equine: Apex Equine, a Waterford veterinarian specializing in equine reproduction.

* Home-based: Huberspace, a Leesburg-based Web developer.

* Product of the Year: 2Flare LLC, a Sterling health-conscious beverage company.

* Entrepreneur of the Year: Curiosity Zone, a hands-on children's science lab in Ashburn.

Have news about Loudoun and Fauquier county business to share? Send an e-mail to brubaker@washpost.com.