In a move to expand Manassas's business base and attract technology and Fortune 500 companies, the Manassas City Council embraced an ambitious economic development package this week that includes hiring an economic development director.

The plan includes goals for growth; an analysis of the city's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; and steps to highlight the local business community.

A crucial first step, said Roger Snyder, the city's community development director, is to hire an economic developer, someone who can assess Manassas's business potential and successfully market the area. He urged the council to create the position, and noted that several Northern Virginia cities of similar size--Leesburg, Fredericksburg and Fairfax, among others--employ an economic development staff.

"This is important to the marketing of Manassas," Snyder said Monday. "It's necessary now."

Goals for the business community also were outlined in the plan. Manassas aims to achieve the following by 2003: increase to 40 percent, from the current 35 percent, the portion of city real estate taxes derived from business and industry and expand the job base to at least 22,000, from nearly 21,000 in 1999.

Yet stereotypes and perceptions might stifle or hinder growth, Snyder said.

The city has a limited amount of large office and industrial space for new businesses, forcing potential employers to look elsewhere to build. Also, many people not familiar with Manassas still view the city as predominantly blue collar, as noted by several commercial brokers polled for the business report that city staff presented to the council. Those weaknesses could be remedied with the proper marketing of the area, Snyder said.

Although the council endorsed the proposals, it will not take action on the package until next month.

In other city business, Airston Group III announced this week that it filed an application with Manassas to rezone the 93-acre tract known as Smitherwood, in the northwest corner of the city. The application details the company's plans to develop the property as a neo-traditional community with four types of housing: age-restricted carriage style courtyard units, old town colonial units with rear garages, executive villa units and custom houses.

"We've received excellent feedback from the community, and this has been received really well," said John Ziegler, spokesman for the company. "We're excited about this."