When Neal Potter promised to slow down growth as Montgomery County's chief executive, he was not kidding.

Potter said yesterday that he wants to halt the county's industrial recruitment efforts, even when the potential catch is the corporate headquarters of a $10 billion-a-year company such as General Dynamics Corp., the nation's second-largest military contractor.

"We need to ease off on the stimulation of employment," Potter said, adding that he's not interested in luring General Dynamics, which announced Wednesday it will move its headquarters and about 200 jobs from St. Louis to a Washington suburb, most likely Fairfax County.

"My feeling is that we should concentrate on the biomedical field and high tech, and not seek a corporate head like that," Potter said yesterday.

Last fall, Potter ousted incumbent Sidney Kramer, primarily by attacking Montgomery's rapid growth, clogged roads and heavily developed business districts. His victory, and those of several County Council members who ran on slow-growth platforms, were seen as signals that Montgomery residents wanted time for roads, schools and other facilities to catch up with development.

Still, Potter's comments yesterday surprised some of his allies and outraged pro-business officials.

"I was told this morning by the {county} executive that he doesn't want them {General Dynamics} to come, he wants them to go away," council member William E. Hanna Jr. (D-District 3), said during council debate over growth policies. "The no-growth feeling is so strong, and the anti-business atmosphere is so great, there's no willingness to look at something bigger than two more cars on the road."

Potter said he has not talked with General Dynamics officials, and there's no evidence that his sentiments influenced the company's apparent preference for a site near Dulles International Airport.

There seemed to be some confusion in the Potter administration about the executive's position. In March, Potter joined Gov. William Donald Schaefer and three other county executives in signing a letter urging the chairman of General Dynamics to move the headquarters to Maryland.

Potter, however, could not recall signing the letter yesterday until it was read to him. Then he said, "I remember now raising that, because it said Maryland in general . . . I don't think we should press it for Montgomery because Montgomery's strength is in other fields."

Meanwhile, Jon A. Gerson, the county's director of economic development, said yesterday, "We have been actively pursuing General Dynamics's location in our area."

Potter's comments seemed likely to stir new debate in a county that is struggling with revenue problems and empty office space on the one hand, and cramped roads and crowded schools on the other. The roads and schools would become even more packed if those offices were suddenly filled.

Under rigid county guidelines that prohibit development in any given area until transportation capacity, schools and water/sewer systems are ready to support it, half of Montgomery County is under a ban on commercial or residential development. Hanna, a former Rockville mayor, said the guidelines are too rigid, and urged the council yesterday to allow growth in certain areas even if traffic problems would worsen.

When only two of the other eight council members endorsed his motion, Hanna announced he was walking out, saying, "My philosophy is obviously so distant that I can't contribute anything to this dicussion." Before he reached the door, however, colleagues persuaded him to stay.

Potter did not attend the daylong meeting, but defended his comments about General Dynamics in an interview. "Our biggest problems are the high price of land and the inadequate public facilities, mainly roads," he said. "New employers tend to increase all those problems."

Potter, 76, said he is not anti-business. He said he is working to persuade the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to consolidate its operations, now spread throughout the Washington area, in Montgomery. "We're working to retain an industry, a federal establishment that's very important to us," he said.

Two of Potter's closest allies on the council said they disagreed with the executive's hasty dismissal of General Dynamics's overtures.

"My view would be that we should investigate it," said council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large).

"I was surprised by Neal's quick dismissal," said council member Bruce T. Adams (D-At Large). "We should find out exactly what the nature of the opportunity is."

Potter's comments may come as little surprise to Montgomery residents who closely followed the 1990 election. Potter told The Washington Post last August that Montgomery has all the jobs it needs and shouldn't be encouraging growth.

In an interview this week before the General Dynamics announcement was made, Potter reiterated those sentiments. Asked if Montgomery County officials were recruiting industry, as most jurisdictions do, Potter replied: "They have been doing it. I'm trying to see that they don't do it anymore . . . . Trying to stimulate growth in general is poor policy."

He said Montgomery County should not "try to get another Mobil Oil," a reference to Mobil Corp's decision to move its corporate headquarters to Fairfax County in 1989 after considering Montgomery. "I still say we were lucky they did not come here," he said.