The type of environment being created for business growth is more important than the number of new jobs being developed, an economic development official said.

Economic development programs helped create 8,312 jobs in Maryland last year, but state officials played down the importance of the figure, which is far below numbers reported in neighboring states.

Pennsylvania announced creation of 87,675 jobs in the first eight months of the year, and Virginia claimed 19,456 new jobs. Delaware, with a much smaller population than Maryland, reported 12,200 new jobs last year.

Maryland officials said their figure, which increased from 4,162 the year before, reflects only the plant openings and business expansions in which state programs played an active role.

"The number of jobs is not always a solid indicator of economic development," said R. Scott Fosler, vice president of the Committee for Economic Development in Washington.

"These numbers are not very meaningful. The real importance of economic development programs is not in the periodic numbers being tossed around but in what sort of fertile environment is being created in the state for business growth," he said.

Fosler said state economic officials "feel compelled" to come up with annual job growth reports to have something tangible to show the governor, legislature and media to justify their programs.

"For example, I recall a state that one year announced the creation of 150 jobs. But upon further investigation, it was determined that 70 of the jobs were workers in the economic development agency itself," Fosler said.

"There's such a wide spectrum of involvement that state officials can claim in these reports, from having made a phone call to a broker to actually having taken someone to a site," said J. Randall Evans, Maryland's secretary of Employment and Economic Development. "In comparing one state's performance with another, you could end up comparing apples with doughnuts."

Evans, whose office released the Maryland numbers, agreed with Fosler, calling new job announcements "somewhat self-serving."

The method for tabulating the total jobs created vary from state to state, with most officials readily admitting that their data are incomplete and often derived from secondary sources, such as newspapers.

Virginia even includes a disclaimer in its reports saying the figures are based on announcements of plans for new facilities or expansions. "We find that some of the new plant openings never materialize," said Evelyn M. Glazier, director of marketing services for the Virginia Department of Economic Development. "But most of the business expansions go through and the overall percentage of jobs derived from the announcements is pretty good."

In Maryland, officials cited 95 plant openings and expansions in 1987 with nearly $300 million in capital investment. The businesses range from several European firms with just two employees to larger employers, such as Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp. in Anne Arundel County with 800 jobs. The Maryland figures reflect only the work done in the state's industrial development office and do not include other agencies' statistics.