Two decades ago, businesses in Arlington were mostly small, locally owned firms that served county residents.

But as high-rise development came along, so did major regional and national corporations employing hundreds of workers. The growth has been so spectacular that the daytime population of office and service workers -- 156,400 -- comes close to the county's total residential population of 158,900.

The county government, in an effort to involve these new, larger firms in civic issues, has formed the Business Roundtable. The group has a dozen members representing the major firms doing business in Arlington, including developers, hotels, banks and high-tech computer companies.

"There has not really been a forum where the senior management people of the major employers could get together," said County Board Chairman John G. Milliken.

"There are a growing number of people who are Arlington residents during the day and have an impact on the community, and we need to have them participate in the process. We will need help from them, and we need input from them," Milliken said.

Groups such as the Arlington Chamber of Commerce have traditionally represented its members on issues such as business license taxes. But its chief goal is to represent those firms that have joined it, and not all companies in the county are members, said Tom Parker, Arlington's economic development chief.

The purpose of the round table will be to discuss issues of concern to both business and the broader community, Parker said.

The round table meets four times a year and is putting together a list of what it considers key issues, said Ernst Volgenau, president and chief executive officer of the SRA Corp. and chairman of the Business Roundtable.

These include the future availability of a qualified work force, housing, transportation, parking, day care and attracting business, he said.

What happens then is still to be decided by the County Board and the round table members, "but if there's an issue that we all feel is particularly important, we could sit down and figure out a way to ameliorate it," Volgenau said.

Volgenau's firm, Systems Research Applications, is typical of the types of firms county officials are trying to involve in civic matters.

Volgenau started the company in the basement of his Reston home in 1978. It now employs 430 people, 350 of them in a gleaming glass office tower on North 15th Street. For four years, the company has been on Inc. magazine's list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the country. It specializes in developing computer and information systems.

Other members of the round table include developer Giuseppe Cecchi and officials of firms such as Bell Atlantic, Sovran Bank and Gannett Co. The round table will function for two years and may then become an adjunct of the county's Chamber of Commerce, Volgenau said.

The chamber has welcomed the formation of the round table, said chamber president Monte Davis.

While the round table also represents business interests, its role, which is to discuss larger community issues rather than exclusively business matters, is different and the two groups are not rivals, she said.

Davis, a vice president of Central Fidelity Bank, is a member of the round table, as are several other present and former chamber officials. Some representatives from small businesses in the county also belong to the round table.