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Dulles Airport is critical for Northern Virginia’s continued growth

For decades, Northern Virginia has been among the leading regions to start, grow or relocate a business, not just in the United States, but also worldwide. Our region has a number of assets that make it unique. Our leaders at the local and state levels support a positive business climate, our public schools are among the best in the nation and our local colleges and universities support the development of a highly educated and skilled workforce. Despite the challenges we face as a region adjusting in a post-sequestration era, Northern Virginia will continue to be a premiere business destination as long as we support policies and investments that protect and grow our most important assets.

Businesses that come to our region know they are connected nationally and internationally through Washington Dulles International Airport. Dulles provides our businesses with unlimited opportunities to market and export goods and services worldwide, making it a cornerstone of our region and one of the commonwealth’s most critical assets.

As recently noted in The Post, Dulles’ international travel numbers have grown, but the number of domestic passengers has declined as domestic flights have shifted to nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in part because of federal legislative or regulatory action. Moreover, because of investments made at Dulles prior to the economic downturn, the cost per-enplanement fee at Dulles, an important metric that airlines consider when deciding which markets to serve, is among the highest in the country. These factors leave Dulles at a competitive disadvantage with airports across the country, including Reagan National Airport just down the road.

It is critical to our regional economy that we invest in Dulles now. Dulles provides more than 85,000 direct jobs to Virginians and supports overall statewide employment activity totaling 146,122 direct, indirect and induced jobs.  This includes 18,692 Loudoun County residents and 40,311 residents of Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Falls Church. Passengers coming to our region through Dulles spend $3.4 billion annually in Virginia, supporting all sectors of the economy in Northern Virginia and beyond. As the Virginia economy relies more and more on tourism and trade – providing more people from more places access to our great commonwealth – Dulles will play a critical role in facilitating commerce throughout the state.The House budget released just this past Sunday includes a $50 million investment in the future of Dulles Airport. This funding will provide Dulles the tools to drive down Dulles’ cost-per-enplanement fee, which should attract and retain new business and more passengers. Both are required to strengthen its competitive position. Combined with Metro Silver Line access scheduled for 2018 and corresponding development coming to the corridor, this investment will stem the decline of domestic passengers and help Dulles withstand the economic headwinds that have brought us to this point.

We all wish this were not necessary, but as representatives of business and government, we understand our region cannot sit still at this critical moment. We need to act now to maintain our role as a leading international gateway and an international economic market leader. Reinforcing our strategic assets and advocating for policies that promote a strong, innovative business climate is the only way we will move the Northern Virginia economy forward.  This investment is an important part of that effort.

Jim Corcoran is president and chief executive of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-Loudoun) is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates Appropriations Committee. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) serves as deputy Virginia House minority leader and is a member of the House Appropriations Committee