President Clinton visited a Northeast Washington mop company yesterday to showcase a local firm that is part of a national effort to spur economic growth in troubled communities by linking small businesses with large corporations.

Clinton joined a one-hour roundtable discussion with Vice President Gore, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and 16 senior executives from corporations across the country who met inside Powell's Manufacturing Industries Inc., an 11-year-old mop manufacturing company that has been "mentored" by Giant Food Inc.

"This is a very important moment for our country," Clinton said during the meeting, which also was attended by D.C. Council members Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4). "We finally have a chance to do something with places that have been left behind."

The United States, Clinton said, has a moral obligation to get all Americans to participate in the country's economy. "This is free enterprise. . . . This is not a social program," he said.

Clinton announced yesterday that Washington has become part of Working with BusinessLINC (Learning, Information, Networking and Collaboration), a private-public network established by Gore to encourage large businesses to work with small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The Washington chapter, headed by H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University, and David Rutstein, CEO of Giant Food, will be headquartered at the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Other chapters have been set up in New York, Dallas, Boston, Chicago and the Mississippi Delta.

The president toured the mop company, which is the only wet-mop maker in the District. Walking around the huge bails of rolled cotton mop yarn, he praised owner James Powell and other companies that operate as part of the network. He told the business group that the United States must have a "willingness to undertake this project with gusto."

Giant has been helping Powell for 11 years and arranged for his mops and brooms to be used in maintenance at 180 Giant groceries across the country. He said he has expanded his business by 45 percent and increased the number of employees from three to 11. Giant, he said, helped his company grow by introducing him to other business leaders and referring him to other supermarket chains.

"It makes sense for larger companies to work with smaller companies," Powell said. "Giant is a mentor. They nurture us. This creates opportunities for welfare-to-work recipients, and we recycle money back into our community. There is a commitment to blighted areas and to create economic growth. It's trickle down from corporate America. It's a win-win for everyone."

Gore, who called Powell's operation "a wonderfully inspiring business," said the business network "is a rare example for large businesses to mentor small businesses and help them grow. . . . This is a time when we have an obligation to reach out and make sure everyone participates. . . . We grow better when all Americans participate in our prosperity."

Chavous said he was pleased to see the economic revitalization effort from mainstream business. "There is a lot of talk about distressed communities, but distressed communities are a result of distressed policies and practices, and the only way to change this is through real commitment," he said.

Williams signed legislation two weeks ago to make a larger share of $735 million in government contracts available to small businesses in the city. The mayor described Powell's business as a "remarkable example of entrepreneurship" and said he was pleased Clinton "used a nonfederal part of the District to launch a major national initiative that will have a positive effect here in the District."

The meeting yesterday was arranged as part of Business Roundtable, an association of business chief executives established in 1972 to work for public policies that foster economic growth. Participating executives included representatives of Texaco Inc., Chase Manhattan Corp., Chicken Shack Systems and GTE Network Services, as well as Giant.

CAPTION: President Clinton listens to Vice President Gore at Powell's Manufacturing Industries Inc. in the District.