Virginia's high-technology center is a "major force" for retaining old industries, and the search for someone to lead it will be completed in the "very near future," the chairman of its oversight board said last week.

Hays Watkins, chairman of CSX Corp. of Richmond, said the Center for Innovative Technology is a "concept which is in touch with today -- and reaching out to tomorrow."

Gov. Charles Robb envisions the $30.2 million center, to be built near Dulles International Airport, as a link between business and education and as a clearinghouse for industry-subsidized research.

"Those of us who have been involved with the evolution of the concept are convinced that the CIT will be a major force in retaining companies in Virginia as well as attracting new firms to the state," Watkins told the Richmond Bar Association last week.

Watkins, who is heading the search for a CIT president, said his committee has received nearly 230 applications and expects to make a decision in the "very near future."

The Robb administration recently announced a national competition for a design for the center, which is expected to open in late 1985. A small staff is temporarily housed in Northern Virginia, which has a high concentration of high-technology industries.