Bethesda Research Laboratories Inc., a Montgomery County biotechnology firm that recently laid off more than one-third of its work force, is in the grip of cash-flow problems and is reevaluating plans made earlier to move into additional facilities in Frederick County.

The company described its layoffs as the result of long-range considerations that led to a serious restructuring of the six-year-old firm's business. But the layoffs also came at a time when money was a problem, a spokeswoman for the firm said.

"Right now, temporarily, for the moment, cash flow is a consideration. But it's not as if all of a sudden cash flow was bad so we let people go," said Michelle Hartz, the company's spokeswoman. "A better way to look at it is, we were reevaluating and, looking at it, realized that cash flow was not as good as it could be, that we were not putting our money in the best uses."

"Everybody in the industry has great economic stress," said Hartz, noting that biotechnology stocks are depressed. "We were influenced largely by financial considerations, including cash flow, but not by economic distress," she said.

Those problems made the company slower than normal in paying suppliers, Hartz acknowledged. It has also caused the company to "put on hold" its planned move into new headquarters in Frederick County. "It's being evaluated," said Hartz. "Work at the site has stopped," she said, adding that no decision had been made to abandon the plans.

Employes among the 135 abruptly laid off on Feb. 18 said that the layoffs came without notice and in spite of the fact that the company had continued hiring in recent weeks. Their jobs ended on the same day they were laid off, and locks were changed to keep them out.

It was a conscious decision not to tell people in advance of the layoffs, said Hartz. "We though it would be kinder to the people. It was not that we just ran out of time," she said. The locks were changed because much of the work the firm does is proprietary in nature, she said.

The firm has been one of the fastest growing in the burgeoning biotechnology industry. Founded in 1976 with three employes, it has $10 million in annual sales and had 410 workers before the layoffs. Hartz said that the recession and its impact on the biotechnology industry has hit BRL particularly hard because it depends on sales of products for its cash flow. Other firms, she said, have a cushion in contracts or because they are publicly held.