Is Loudoun the most dynamic county in Virginia? How about the country?
These are subjective questions, but arguments can be made and data shown to reveal that, indeed, Loudoun is the most bustling, toss-all-labels-aside place in America.
The county is changing. It has changed. But you knew that. Rapid population growth. Highest median household income in the country. Second-fastest-growing in the nation. Wineries. Data Center Alley. Swing County, U.S.A. You've heard it all.
Pick a major media outlet. CNN, the Wall Street Journal, POLITICO, Forbes, ABC News – all have featured aspects about life in Loudoun.
With the change comes questions about our future. What do we want? Who will we be?
No matter how often Loudoun's population boom is discussed, revisiting the numbers is stunning. More than doubling from 87,000 in 1990 to 174,000 in 2000, the population then shot up to 315,000 in 2010; it's expected to surpass 400,000 this decade.
No single trait has defined Loudoun in the past 20 years more than growth. The inflating population is at the core of most every decision made by local movers and shakers.
Politically, the county is fickle as they come. In the past two presidential elections, Loudoun voters turned out to give Democratic President Barack Obama the edge in the county and the state. In 2013, the county voted for Democrats in three statewide offices – governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – while simultaneously electing all Republican delegates to the state General Assembly. Of the county's 11 state legislators, nine are Republicans and two are Democrats.
|CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” ran a segment in 2012 on Loudoun County’s critical role in that year's presidential election.|
In 2011, the GOP ran a clean sweep of the nine seats on the local Board of Supervisors. That election especially has led to years of budget battling about ...
Year after year, Loudoun residents can expect impassioned, often-divisive debates over education funding. Loudoun County Public Schools' teachers, staff and advocates plea for more local funding, while county supervisors stress balancing education costs with those of major transportation projects, public safety and other public services.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the county's allocation to LCPS fell approximately $37 million short of the School Board's initially-adopted, $950 million budget. While the supervisors' appropriation drew the ire of LCPS proponents, the supervisors hailed the total allotment as a nearly $70 million increase from the current fiscal year.
In his “State of the County” speech in May, Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) said this year's budget gap was not, contrary to loud outcry, “one of the largest.” In 2009, for instance, the shortfall was nearly $49 million, and in 2011 there was a $54 million gap, York noted.
But while supervisors boasted an increase, LCPS officials underscored that cost-per-pupil spending in the ever-expanding district remains less than what it was five years ago amid the economic downturn. At $11,638, Loudoun's cost-per-pupil amount in fiscal 2014 was well below neighboring counties Fairfax ($13,472) and Arlington ($18,880), though still above Prince William ($10,158). In fiscal 2009, the cost-per-pupil in LCPS was $12,780.
“No county in Virginia has ever grown at the rate of Loudoun for a sustained period and maintained the low real estate tax rate that we have enjoyed,” retiring LCPS Superintendent Dr. Edgar Hatrick said earlier this year.
LCPS' 73,000 enrollment in fiscal 2015 is more than 16,000 students greater than in fiscal 2009.
Whether adequately funded or not, LCPS has managed noteworthy success. More than 97 percent of the district's students graduated on time in 2013, and nearly 72 percent of those earned an Advanced Studies diploma, both greatly surpassing national averages. The average overall score of the 3,455 LCPS students who took the SAT was 1606 compared to 1498 for students nationwide, according to LCPS.
Loudoun's high-performing public schools, many people agree, is a key facet of …
Loudoun's local economy is an issue much less debated than education. Hovering around 4 percent, the county's unemployment rate is well below the national average.
A “sizable and diverse tax base with strong long-term growth potential, above-average wealth levels, consistently solid financial performance and a manageable debt burden” garnered the county a recent triple-A rating from Moody's, according to an analysis from the agency.
More than two dozen of the nation's largest defense contractors operate in Loudoun, according to the county's Department of Economic Development, and as much as 70 percent of the world's Internet traffic passes through Data Center Alley in Ashburn each day. The data center footprint in Loudoun, which has grown nearly 200 percent since 2000, spans more than 4.3 million square feet through 40 buildings.
|Raging Wire Data Centers in Ashburn is one of the largest data center operators in the world.|
All while the data centers are humming and security clearances being checked in east Loudoun, out west sits more than 40 wineries, the most of any county in Virginia, and a flourishing rural economy. The rich green hills, the footsteps to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the county's more than 1,400 farms contribute hefty tourism dollars and revenue to local businesses and the government.
According to Visit Loudoun, the county's official tourism branch, visitor spending in the county is more than $1.5 billion annually, while state and local tax receipts generate about $70 million.
“We’ve seen marked increases in several industry segments including leisure, weddings, corporate and the individual business traveler, which grew 34 percent between 2010 and 2012,” Beth Erickson, Visit Loudoun's interim president, said.
|868 winery in Purcellville is just getting its local grape operation off the ground. 868 currently serves non-Virginian wines and offers sit-down dining at the restaurant on the property, Grandale Farm.|
Fortunately for these visitors, they enjoy relatively strong …
A topic sometimes skipped-over during speeches by Loudoun leaders is public safety, and the reason may well be this: Crime in the county has remained mostly calm in relation to the growing number of people.
Predictably, the Sheriff's Office budget has increased in recent years, from $73.3 million in fiscal 2012 to nearly $80 million in the upcoming fiscal year; but with those appropriations, most categories of crime have decreased.
In 2008, Loudoun County held an incident rate per 100,000 people of 3,232, according to the Virginia State Police. In 2013, the rate decreased to 2,520.
While most crimes were steady or slightly down from 2008 to 2013, there were a few noteworthy increases: cases of forcible sex offenses not including rape jumped from 63 to 77; incidents of drugs and narcotics rose from 955 to 1,055; and cases of fraud were up to 1,044 from 809.
Loudoun officials seem to have a handle on crime, but one issue they've struggled for decades with is …
Though not the sexiest conversation-starter, transportation has been a constant talking point of the current Board of Supervisors.
In 2013, supervisors voted to designate 2 cents of every tax dollar toward congestion-relieving projects throughout the county, the first time a Loudoun board has earmarked funds specifically for transportation.
Currently, the county has more than $735 million budgeted in its six-year capital improvement plan for roads, rails and buses. That dollar amount tallies funds from local and state government and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Some of the county's most expensive, ongoing projects include: upgrading the intersection at Route 7 and Route 659 and widening to Gloucester Parkway for $81 million, which is scheduled for completion by summer 2016; Route 606 widening for $41 million, set for completion by summer 2016; and Gloucester Parkway connections for $40 million, slated to be finished by fall 2016.
Then there are the hot-button plans for the Bi-County Parkway and the Dulles Access Road, both contentious projects under study from the state. The Bi-County Parkway, if approved, will serve as a north-south thoroughfare connecting Loudoun and Prince William counties – despite years of opposition from environmentalists – while the Dulles Access Road would be a limited-access thoroughfare west of the Dulles airport intended to enhance transportation for local residents and air cargo traffic. The Dulles Access Road would also provide a link to the Bi-County Parkway, though routes for both roads are still being planned.
Lastly, there's the $5.5 billion Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, set to bring Metro's Silver Line rail into Loudoun County some time in 2018. The Silver Line will run through the Dulles airport and two stops into Ashburn. Loudoun County is financially responsible for approximately $260 million to $270 million for capital costs of project and annual expenses of $10 million to $20 million once the system is operating.
|Phase Two of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project will bring Metro's Silver Line out to Ashburn in eastern Loudoun County.|
Which leads to ...
A major question for Loudoun planners is how to deliver Metro development in the most beneficial, fiscally-sound fashion. Supervisors and county staff have banked on Metro stations serving as way to ignite economic growth and bolster the commercial tax base, while also hoping to minimize the number of new families and school-aged children the development brings in.
Loudoun's continued growth – be it people, homes, offices, roads or rails – is inevitable. Projections list the county's population as 471,000 by 2030, and that makeup is all but certain to be more diverse than race demographics from the 2010 census, which showed 69 percent of Loudouners to be white, 15 percent Asian, 12 percent Hispanic or Latino and 7 percent African-American.
Yes, Loudoun will look different by 2030; bigger, but not necessarily unfamiliar. And if the past 15 years is any indication, the evolution will be both captivating and complicated.