Maryland's chief competitors in the economic development sweepstakes received a powerful assist this week from an unlikely source--a group of Maryland business leaders.

Citing a "generally hostile" attitude toward business, a group of Maryland executives has decided to chastise the state publicly as a first step in encouraging economic growth.

Virginia Gov. Charles Robb and that state's economic development officials have to be pleased. They couldn't have asked for a more effective marketing tool to steer business away from their neighbor to the north.

In the meantime, a small chorus of critical business voices in Maryland is making the jobs of economic development officials in their state more difficult.

Several executives, led by Bernard C. Trueschler, chairman of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., say they are worried about the economic climate in Maryland. Trueschler, in fact, has been quoted as saying he knows of no major corporation in Maryland that believes the economic climate is what it ought to be.

Testimonials from Maryland business leaders in several national publications tend to contradict that.

Just what should the economic climate be? And what has suddenly changed the climate to cause such a stir among some of Maryland's corporate heads?

The Maryland government's "generally hostile" attitude, we are told, is partially responsible for recent losses of business to Virginia.

Fairchild Industries Inc. plans to move its headquarters from Montgomery County to Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, and the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. recently chose an Arlington site for the new Middle Atlantic Service company.

C&P justified its decision with a blast at Maryland's "adversarial position" toward business and declared there is a more favorable regulatory climate in Virginia. C&P had failed to win a hefty rate increase from the Maryland Public Service Commission prior to that but denied that the ruling had any bearing on its decision to pick Arlington.

Fairchild says a Dulles location would facilitate the company's plan to market a new airplane. Nonetheless, Fairchild Chairman Edward Uhl, reacting to charges of polluting, on which his company subsequently was convicted, lashed out at "a pattern of adversarial relations" between the state and business.

The decisions of Fairchild and C&P may be setbacks in terms of prestige, but they aren't representative of a mass exodus of business from Maryland.

Fairchild's relocation of its headquarters would mean a net loss of about 100 jobs in Maryland, where the company employs a total of about 3,000. Formation of the new telephone service company, which will not involve an actual loss of jobs in Maryland, will eventually create about 1,200 jobs.

It may be only coincidental, but complaints of hostility and adversarial relationships have come in the wake of decisions that primarily affect regulated companies, including BG&E, which also failed recently to win a hefty rate increase from the PSC.

In any event, there seems to be a pattern developing in which the state is accused of being hostile and adversarial toward business whenever a regulatory body or the attorney general's office tries to enforce state laws or seeks to protect consumers' health and welfare.

What would Trueschler and his committee for economic growth have the state do in matters where the public interest has to be weighed against special interests? Their criticism implies a yearning to see the state adopt a laissez-faire attitude toward business.

It's that kind of attitude that contributed to the kepone caper in Virginia and the Love Canal disaster in New York.

Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, responding to criticism from Trueschler and others yesterday, said he welcomes the opportunity to discuss the state's "already unusually favorable business climate" with anyone.

"It's unfortunate," Hughes said in a statement released by his office, "that a very small minority of some business leaders seem to be unaware of the fact that in the last 4 1/2 years, more than 1,600 firms have located or expanded their operations in Maryland, creating thousands of new jobs."