In a parting shot a year ago, the former executive director of the Washington-Baltimore Regional Association suggested that the organization was virtually a carbon copy of other business groups engaged in promoting the region's economy.

Barry Zorthian suggested that the WBRA's role should be broader than promotion. The WBRA could be more effective if it used its resources to help public officials address some of the more critical issues such as land-use development, water treatment, mass transit in the corridor connecting the two cities and improvement of the Baltimore harbor, Zorthian continued.

Indeed, Vincent C. Burke Jr., the WBRA's cochairman, agreed at the time that officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia and the subdivisions in those states could do a more effective job of promoting their respective jurisdictions.

And although Burke didn't rule out a role for the WBRA in promoting the region's investment potential, he was prepared to "let each spoke in the wheel do its own thing."

To be sure, state and local officials have continued to do their own thing in various programs to attract investment. Maryland and Virginia have established solid reputations here and abroad for their aggressive economic development programs.

The City of Baltimore and Montgomery, Baltimore and Fairfax counties are equally as aggressive in their promotional and business-attraction programs.

In the meantime, however, business organizations such as the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Greater Baltimore Committee, through its economic development council, have assumed greater roles in promoting new business investment and supporting expansion of existing businesses in their respective areas.

Both of those organizations -- the leading business groups in the region -- have become partners, in a sense, with government agencies in the fierce competition to promote investment by domestic and foreign businesses.

Both business organizations, for example, recently sent delegations to Europe in search of new business. Briefings, tours, brochures, professional-quality multimedia programs and referral services are mainstays of their programs.

After several years of uncertainty about its role, the WBRA confidently says it is "devoted to the task of defining the business resources and economic trends in the Baltimore-Washington common market."

Until a year ago, the WBRA -- which is an alliance of business leaders from metropolitan Washington and the greater Baltimore area--hadn't determined how it might serve the 15-county Washington-Baltimore region.

Understandably, differences among members were fed by their competitive and parochial concerns about their respective metropolitan areas. But that apparently is no longer a problem, J. Owen Cole, chairman of the WBRA and of First National Bank of Maryland, indicated recently.

Indeed, Baltimore's industrial economy and Washington's service economy complement one another, added another Baltimore businessman.

Now that philosophical and regional differences apparently have been resolved, the WBRA seems firmly committed to the original concept of acting as a "regional catalyst" for economic development.

"I think in most people's eyes, and from a membership point of view, we've been on the mark," Executive Director David Winstead said.

In the past year, the staff of the nonprofit alliance has developed a series of fact sheets on the region's economy that local economic development agencies have incorporated in their marketing literature. "We have had about 8,000 requests for information," Winstead said.

At the same time, the WBRA has initiated, or has been requested to conduct, seminars and briefings on the region's economy.

But Cole pointed out that the organization is limited in what it can do because it has "a very modest power base" politically.

"We can't go out and solicit and direct the relocation of businesses, but what we can do is focus on those groups that do the soliciting," he explained. "We are a service to the professionals."

The WBRA is the only entity that focuses on the total economy of the region, Cole observed. And that is a "valid mission," he emphasized.

Cole agreed that the WBRA's role as catalyst should be expanded in the meantime to deal with issues such as transportation and training. As an example, "I think the whole high-tech issue requires a regional outlook," he said.