Maryland economic development officials must be ecstatic over a statement made earlier in the week by the chairman of BDM Corp., a McLean-based high-technology and professional services firm.

No ad agency could have come up with a better slogan for Maryland's new marketing campaign to persuade more high-technology firms to locate in the state.

Maryland, declared BDM's Earle C. Williams, is "where the graduate education action is."

Scrap the new ideas for your ad campaign, Maryland. With an endorsement like that, what more do you need?

Actually, it's more a question of need in Northern Virginia, and what Williams really did was send a message to Richmond. He was joined by several corporate heads from Northern Virginia's high-technology companies in delivering a very blunt message to state officials.

Without a graduate education program at George Mason University to support Northern Virginia's high-technology community, the region could lose segments of the industry to Maryland, Williams says.

Williams and other high-technology executives from Northern Virginia strongly emphasized that point in testimony before a legislative committee the other day. Theirs was the latest salvo in the continuing debate over where a Virginia Center for Innovative Technology should be located.

The governor's task force on science and technology in Virginia earlier this year recommended that the state expand and "exploit" the capabilities of the state's major research universities in partnership with industry. The task force also endorsed the concept of a Center for Innovative Technology contained in a proposal that was developed jointly by the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Each of those three universities already has extensive research programs in engineering and biotechnology. And, as one might expect, a powerful lobbying effort is under way to have the CIT located at or near one of those universities.

Williams doesn't care as long as George Mason gets the graduate and research programs he wants. And, he says, executives from several high technology firms in Northern Virginia "are of the same mind."

Noting that only in Northern Virginia is there a "critical mass" of high-technology industry, the task force recommended that the CIT be located there. UVA, VCU, VPI and George Mason--because of its proximity to the concentration of high technology--should be participants.

Lost in the debate, Williams says, is the fact that no one has formulated a definite concept for CIT. The debate, he adds, has bogged down in semantics.

"I don't care what you call it. Call it CIT or not and, if somebody wants it elsewhere (other than in Northern Virginia), I don't care," says Williams.

"What I want is a graduate program at George Mason University. I am absolutely, totally uncompromising on that.

Plain and simple, Williams and others in Northern Virginia's high-tech community consider George Mason the only logical location for graduate research and support programs in information sciences, computer science, systems engineering and related fields.

Williams isn't prepared to relocate BDM's corporate headquarters to Maryland. "We can get along here with our current staff and our current size."

But there is no question, Williams implied, that BDM--and others--would strongly consider building new facilities near the University of Maryland "where the graduate education action is."

There is a feeling in Northern Virginia's high-technology community that up to now mostly political and educational arguments have been made in support of proposed CIT locations. "The high-technology community failed to send the proper message before and that's our fault," Williams concedes.

"If what we are talking about are measures to attract and retain a high-technology capability in Virginia, then we ought to be the experts."

With Washington's Maryland suburbs in a commanding position to gain from any losses in Virginia's high-technology base, Williams' message should have little difficulty getting through to Richmond.