There are certain harsh realities in the world of business, and in Montgomery County these days, a new one is named Neal Potter.

Potter, the Democratic nominee and odds-on favorite for county executive, has spent much of his political career estranged from the business community. His candidacy for executive was opposed by some of the county's major commercial and development leaders. And, his upset of incumbent Sidney Kramer in large measure was because of a perception of Potter as protector of the little guy against more powerful interests.

Still, few in the business community believe Potter's Republican opponent is a credible alternative, and business leaders are scrambling to open up lines of communication with the Democrat. In return, Potter and his supporters are taking pains to reach out and be receptive.

"The voters of Montgomery County have spoken and it appears we are going to be dealing with Mr. Potter," said Thomas C. Miller, president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, which last week hosted a breakfast with Potter.

"Make no mistake about it," Miller said, "The business community by and large supported Mr. Kramer in the primary, and you can't just turn right around and support someone you were opposed to . . . . But we will try to keep an open mind and we hope Mr. Potter will keep an open mind."

Officials of other chambers of commerce across the county reported they were arranging their own meetings with Potter or members of his advisory group. Some business leaders who supported Kramer -- Potomac developer Morton Funger, office-furniture store founder Saul Stern, and R. Robert Linowes, the county's premier development attorney -- have agreed to help Potter raise money for the Nov. 6 general election.

Potter, a council member for 20 years, faces Republican Albert Ceccone, a Chevy Chase businessman who has run unsuccessfully for local and federal office.

His quiet campaign, and his message that he is even more opposed to growth than Potter, has failed so far to attract business people who might be tempted to jump ship from the Democratic Party.

Potter "is going to be the county executive of the largest populated jurisdiction in the state of Maryland, and for the business community to write him off and bury its head in the sand as though he doesn't exist would be foolhardy," said council member Isiah Leggett. "When you are playing with a new deck of cards, you better learn how to deal with them."

Some of the 40 Bethesda business people who huddled for breakfast with Potter said they came away from the meeting pleasantly surprised.

"I think he is making a real effort not to burn any bridges and to present himself as more balanced than he appeared at the height of all the political rhetoric," said one member.

Potter agreed that some in the business world really don't know him despite his record tenure on the council.

William Hussmann, a former county chief administrative officer who is serving on Potter's outreach committee, said that Potter, because of his reputation for cautious study and general skepticism about growth, was never really sought out by business leaders.

"Those who paid attention to what Neal was saying and doing would realize he has never been anti-business," said former Planning Board chairman Norman Christeller, another member of Potter's outreach team.

Stern, a long-term business leader who was a strong backer of Kramer's, said, "You don't have to agree with {Potter} on everything but he can be dealt with."

Still, Stern said Potter's policies are of concern in the business community.

Business leaders worried about an economic slowdown that some believe could deepen into a recession are especially upset with Potter's support for a parking tax on employee parking spaces.

They say it would translate into a $20 million tax bill for the business community. Potter also has called for new taxes on development and has been sharply critical of the county's office of economic development.

Potter's questioning of such projects as the proposed trolley between Silver Spring and Bethesda or major redevelopment in downtown Silver Spring also make business leaders jittery.

And, Potter's fabled academic approach to government worries business leaders who think today's problems need action and not more study.

"To people in business, these are clouds on the horizon," said Kramer.

He acknowledged that there have been troubling reports that major employers in the county such as IBM are unhappy with the state of affairs.

However, sources in the business community said that any dissatisfaction on the part of IBM and other major firms does not spring overnight from Potter's victory; they say some of Kramer's policies have some wondering whether Montgomery remains a good place to do business.

The members of Potter's advisory team -- who also are meeting with people in the civic and labor communities -- stressed they are aware of the economic forces affecting business and the goal should be one of cooperation.

It is the economic downturn that most preoccupies business leaders.

Said Arias Mardirossian, developer and founder of the 6-Twelve convenience store chain: "My gut feeling is Mr. Potter cannot do anything to business in Montgomery County that the banks already did not do."