Washington area business executives and corporate managers are quite proud of their accomplishments in 1979 -- the year of the promise recession that did not arrive on schedule. Belts were tightened and caution was evident in expansion or hiring decisions. Debts were reduced, where possible.

All of these developments should reap rewards in 1980, since indicators of both the national and local economy in recent weeks show that recession is setting in. But local business leaders expect only a temporary slowdown, to be followed by gradual economic expansion in an economy where stable government employment is the largest single factor.

Including in The Washington Post's annual directory of the area's biggest businesses is a diverse grouping that reflects the government orientation of the local economy. There are few heavy industrial or manufacturing companies but many engaged in finance, services and research, as well as retail trade and real estate to provide for the needs of a relatively affluent population.

In 1979, total assets of the Top 60 reached $97 billion, up about 5 percent from the previous year. The Top 60 employed more than 1 million workers last year and reported profits of about $1.5 billion -- more than $1,400 in earnings per worker. A full listing of the Top 60, showing return on stockholders' equity for the most recent five years, is in the centerfold of Washington Business.

The Washington Post's Top 60 firms are the largest in terms of assets, revenues, employes or influence within their economic sector.

Companies listed here are publicly traded or private firms with headquarters in the Washington area and are the largest companies in terms of assets, revenues, employes or influence within their economic sector.

Figures of 1979 are for the calendar year unless otherwise noted. If a company is traded publicly, its marketplace is listed in parentheses -- NYSE for New York Stock Exchange, Amex for American Stock Exchange, OTC for over-the-counter, P for Pacific, M for Midwest and Phila. for Philadelphia Exchange.