Before getting carried away in their pursuit of high-technology companies, state and local officials in the region may want to consider a point that deserved stronger emphasis in a recent report to Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb.
Fierce competition by economic development agencies to attract a greater share of high-technology firms notwithstanding, only 4 percent of the national work force is likely to be employed in high-technology industries in 1990, according to Robb's task force on science and technology.
What's more, only 3 percent of the nation's work force currently is employed in the core industries of high technology.
The blue-ribbon panel from industry, science and education notes, however, there will be a "significant peripheral effect throughout the economy" as a result of a widespread market for and availability of high-technology products.
Nonetheless, the task force cautions, high technology alone will not provide employment for large numbers of Virginians. The same could be said for other parts of the region as well.
But because of the glamour and prestige assigned to high-tech industries, business attraction programs have become heavily weighted in their direction. At least 141 programs in 48 states are geared to high tech, the Virginia task force found. An estimated 4,500 economic development agencies throughout the country are vying for high-tech industries.
Montgomery County's announcement yesterday of the mid-Atlantic region's first industrial park devoted solely to biomedical research is certain to escalate the already intense local competition for high-tech industry.
"The economic scribes tell us that high technology represents the economic future of our country," declared Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, adding his county already has a diverse technological base.
Indeed, the Virginia task force notes the state's neighbors are developing or have recently developed programs designed to attract high-technology industry.
There is a significant high-tech base in Virginia, the task force said, but "there have been no sharply targeted programs at the state level to attract it."
No doubt Robb recognized that shortcoming and appointed the task force to develop a series of recommendations to make the state more competitive.
Despite previous findings favorable to Virginia's image as an aggressive competitor in economic development, the Governor's Task Force on Science and Technology criticized the state's marketing efforts as too conservative.
Too little use has been made of market research, and in recent years Virginia has spent less on development activities than neighboring states, it said.
Virginia's image is "largely neutral" and the state is frequently overlooked "not because we are weak or unattractive but because we are unknown or forgotten. If this finding is correct, marketing is a major key to the future."
Among other findings, the task force concluded:
* Many outsiders consider the racial climate less than satisfactory in Virginia. That kind of perception could hurt the state's chances of attracting the firms it covets.
* Dulles International Airport has the potential to become a major hub as well as an important facility for international flights but continues to be underutilized.
* Only Northern Virginia has the "critical mass" of high tech in place that is likely to influence companies seeking to relocate. "Efforts must be made not only to strengthen that concentration but also to draw on its components to enhance development in other regions of the state."
In the meantime, the panel recommended adoption of high school curricula requirements that will ensure a balance of rigorous courses in the sciences and the humanities, "stressing both technological and communication literacy."
It also endorsed the creating a center for innovative technology to be shared by the state's universities and a reexamination of programs at vocational schools and community colleges.
Despite its recommendations for attracting high technology, that industry alone "will be no panacea in providing employment for large numbers of Virginia's citizens," the task force cautioned.