Prince George's County merchants, buoyed by recent publicity touting the economic future of the county, proudly displayed their services and wares at the third annual trade show yesterday.

The show, sponsored by the county's Chamber of Commerce, featured exhibits by 85 businesses and government and service agencies, about 20 more than last year, according to trade show Chairman Richard Scott.

"The timing was right," said Scott, standing amid rows of decorated booths advertising everything from hotels and computer systems to roller skating rinks.

Unlike last year, Scott said, all the booths were rented in advance. "Five or six people called in the last couple of days looking for space. It felt so good to be able to tell them, 'Sorry.' " The show continues today at the Sheraton Hotel and Exhibition Center in New Carrollton.

County business owners were particularly pleased to be holding the exhibition a week after the wide circulation of a consultant's report prepared for the First American Bank of Maryland. The report called the county "the hottest business property in the Washington area."

The consultant, George Grier of Silver Spring, noted the rapid growth in office space and the high tech development and said the county's location, transportation network and labor force are among the factors sought by developers.

William Meck, security manager for the Metropolitan Safe and Lock Co. in Riverdale, said such accolades are overdue. "This is tremendous," said Meck, "We're getting the recognition."

Meck, a veteran of the county's two previous shows, said the event is an opportunity to entertain customers from the metropolitan area and to woo prospective clients. New business, he said, was not a problem for him, however.

"I hate to say it but with the crime rate, our business goes up all the time," he said. As he spoke, another man pressed a business card into his hand and peeled off one of Meck's. "If you need a CPA," the man said.

Many exhibitors came from businesses headquartered in other jurisdictions. Danna Moore, office manager for Manpower Temporary Services, said economic forecasts of the area by headquarters in Milwaukee persuaded the company to open a new office in Landover in addition to the ones in Laurel and Silver Spring. "Business is booming and we wanted to be in on it," she said.

WRC radio broadcast its afternoon talk show from the exhibition. Host Ron Eisenberg interviewed an array of guests, including U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, Capital Centre owner Abe Pollin, Prince George's new police chief, Michael Flaherty, and County Executive Parris Glendening.