Alan Caunce is a low-key soldier in the army of economic development specialists prowling the United States in quest of corporate investment in their countries or their states.

Armed with maps, charts, slide projectors and economic inducements, these troops travel the circuit--Houston, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland--looking for the factories, laboratories, and hotels that will produce jobs and tax revenues for their communities.

The government of India sent a team last month. Egyptians have been frequent visitors. Jamaica and other Caribbean countries have been in and out to make their pitch. Many nations maintain permanent economic offices, looking for potential capital investors. States, counties, cities and regional development boards visit other communities and foreign nations in search of investment.

Against all that competition, in a time of worldwide recession, Caunce has what he believes is a modest goal. "I've got to create roughly 400 to 500 jobs a year," he said in an interview during his stopover in Washington.

Caunce, 51, is industrial promotion officer for Cumbria, a depressed, sparsely populated county in the north of England, on the border with Scotland. Hit hard by the British recession and the decline of the British steel industry, Cumbria has an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, and it would be higher, Caunce said, except that "a lot of intelligent youths leave."

His mission is to entice American corporations to put new factories and distribution centers in Cumbria. "I'm not here to steal your industry," he said, "but some companies are going to expand abroad anyway and they might as well go where there is no language problem."

The standard pitch from the economic development recruiters is that their country or community offers financial inducements, tax breaks, and a combination of transportation, labor and politics that would make investment profitable. Caunce's spiel is not much different.

Cumbria offers "no tax holidays, we can't compete with the Irish Republic on that," he said, but it does offer grants of up to 15 percent of construction cost to new manufacturing industries, training grants up to 80 percent of costs for "potentially viable" industries that would not otherwise locate in Cumbria, and other low-cost loans and rent concessions for service and software industries.

In addition, West Cumbria is an official "steel closure area," eligible for soft loans and grants from the European Coal and Steel Community.

Caunce said that Cumbria, which is on the west coast of England, has "good water supply and effluent control" and is prepared to accept "dirty" industries of the kind that are often unwelcome elsewhere. "I'm trying to attract chemicals and pharmaceuticals, we want new messy plants in place of old messy plants. Everyone else wants high-technology industries, but we can deal with the mess--not in our national park areas, the lake country, but along the coast."

Britain, he said, is certain to attract some defense plants associated with the country's agreement to buy the Trident missile system from the United States, "and we want our share."

Caunce did not just step off a plane and take pot luck on contacts. His itinerary was arranged partly through a Tenneco subsidiary which already has a plant in Cumbria, and partly by Cumbria's U.S. representative, Henry W. Alexander Associates of San Francisco.

"I've gotten a terse response from some people," he said, "but mostly they have been very polite. It's amazing how many executives I have gotten in to see." He never expects any one to "sign up on the spot," he said. "I just want to make sure they know about us."

Cumbria's biggest coup so far, he said, is an agreement by the New Balance running shoe company of Massachusetts to put its European plant there. Location in Britain, Caunce said, gives New Balance an English-speaking work force, a congenial environment for its executives, and access to the other nations of the European Common Market.