Independence Air flights took off for the last time Thursday evening, Jan. 5, leaving more than 2,000 people in the area unemployed. The company cited high fuel costs as the reason for its folding.
"I'll move on," said Brett Rinker of Potomac Station who worked at the airline's hangar facility for six months. Rinker, 25, said he was more concerned for his co-workers who had more than one family member employed at Independence.
Although Rinker has another job lined up, not in the airline industry, he will keep contact with other employees for future employment possibilities. "It was a great airline and a fun place to work," he said.
INDEPENDENCE EMPLOYED around 2,300 people in the Dulles area, a large majority of whom are now left without jobs. The company is organizing job fairs for its former employees, helping them find new jobs, said Rinker. "They are trying to take care of us the best they can," he said.
While it is never pleasant to lose a job, this is the best place and time to do so, said Larry Rosenstrauch, director of Loudoun County Department of Economic Development. "This is the best region in the U.S. to be looking for a job," he said. Loudoun County adds jobs at a high rate and its strong economy continues to grow, he said. Rosenstrauch said employees who struggle to find jobs have a couple of options to consider. Losing a month or two of income can be very frustrating, he said, but there are options to help them.
The Loudoun office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension offers a free educational service to area families. The program links trained volunteers with families from six months to a year to assist with creating a spending plan, lowering payments for debt and contacting creditors.
"We don't provide money," said Beverly Samuel, an extension agent, "this is an educational service."
Samuel said free educational publications are available for those who do not want to go through the counseling process. The Loudoun office of the VCE can be contacted at 703-777-5419.
THE OTHER PROGRAM Rosenstrauch mentioned is through the Northern Virginia Workforce Investment Board. The board is funded with money from federal and state governments and works in cooperation with the Virginia Employment Commission, said David Hunn, director. NVWIB links job seekers with businesses in the area. The services include assessment of skills, new opportunities within industries of interest and retraining for other industries.
As far as Independence employees are concerned, NVWIB can help find job opportunities in the airline industry or another industry, if the employees wish to do so, said Hunn. The board encourages training in industries it assesses as having a successful future in the region. In the case of Northern Virginia, said Hunn, those are health care, information technology and business services. Training in construction and retail is also available.
"We are sorry it has come to this," said Hunn. NVWIB's goal in terms of Independence's shut down is to be as responsive as possible to the needs of the former employees. He said it is rare in the region's strong economy to have a company the size of Independence Air fold. However, he said, similar circumstances occurred a couple of years ago when the technology industry experienced a bust. He said a lot of workers in the industry who were laid off seek help from NVWIB. The board's Web site, http://www.myskillsource.org, offers information for employees and employers on its services and a list of its seven centers in the area.
WHILE INDEPENDENCE AIR will no longer operate, Rosenstrauch said he hopes its spirit and business model will. He said it was an airline people seemed to love for more than just its low cost. It provided services to areas other carriers did not serve and did so frequently. As an example, he mentioned a consultant from Greenville, S.C., who worked with the Department of Economic Development. He would have had a harder time coming up to Loudoun had it not been for Independence's service to and from Greenville, he said. "I am hoping other airlines will pick up on that," he said, "it is a good legacy."