Loudoun County may be known as one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, with the highest median incomes. Loudoun may be known across the country for its annual battles over religious displays on the courthouse grounds.
Loudoun may be known regionally, if not nationally, as “DC’s Wine Country,” as it is being marketed by the convention and visitors association. History buffs may know Leesburg as the site of the Battle of Balls Bluff, or the temporary home of the Declaration of Independence during the War of 1812. The Middleburg area may be known far and wide as horse country.
Ashburn may get Loudoun County on the evening news or in the morning newspaper every day during football season, as the corporate home and practice site of the Washington Redskins. Eugene Delgaudio, as perhaps the best known politician in Loudoun County, may bring us occasional notoriety.
But, for a few minutes, you can put aside population growth, money, manger scenes, wineries, battlefields, historic mansions, horse stables, football and politicians.
As Washington Dulles International Airport celebrates its 50th birthday, it’s a good time to remind ourselves it is the airport that put Loudoun County on the map once and for all, that has completely transformed this once sleepy county, and that continues to be the most important driver of our local economy.
A few years ago, I was a panelist at a conference of communications officials who worked for local governments around the country. It was customary for the panelists to briefly describe the jurisdictions where we worked – whether it was a large city, resort town, rural county, or something else.
I began by asking a roomful of my peers if they had ever been to Loudoun County, Virginia. No one had. Then I asked how many had ever flown into Dulles Airport. Nearly every hand in the room went up.
“Then you have been to Loudoun County,” I said.
They were not alone. Last year, Dulles Airport served more than 23.2 million passengers, including 6.5 million on international commercial flights. Some of them stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants, and visit our local attractions.
The Loudoun Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Visit Loudoun, has taken advantage of the terminal’s location in Loudoun to market the county to travelers.
In partnership with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), Visit Loudoun has set up diorama displays at the airport’s domestic baggage claim areas. Visit Loudoun uses the displays to promote Loudoun’s wine country, heritage, towns and villages, horse country, and the “Get Lost in Loudoun” web series.
But tourism is just one small part of the airport’s economic impact on Loudoun County. Consider this:
A 2009 MWAA economic impact study estimated that Dulles Airport directly and indirectly supported or created 114,808 jobs in Virginia and over $5 billion in labor income. That year, there were 17,948 on-site employees at the airport, 15,858 of whom were full-time. The air freight industry accounted for 607 jobs and $36.8 million in wages in Loudoun County.
The same study estimated that Dulles Airport directly and indirectly generated $435 million in state and local tax revenues in Virginia in 2009, including $73.2 million in Loudoun.
The airport directly provides jobs for reservations and ticketing agents, baggage handlers, flight crews, stevedores, sky caps, retail tenants, administrators and equipment maintenance personnel. It also generates jobs in catering, parking, security and transportation.
The influence of the airport extends far beyond the operation of the airport itself, to include capital projects, freight transportation, exporters, and the afore-mentioned visitors who spend money on food, lodging, transportation and entertainment.
Among the largest employers in Loudoun are United Airlines, US Airways Express, aviation support companies Air Serv and Swissport USA, airport caterer Gate Gourmet, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
That’s a lot of jobs, and a lot of money flowing into Loudoun County.
For that reason alone, we should tip our hats and celebrate Dulles Airport’s 50 years in Loudoun County.