Bill Brennan considers himself lucky to have landed a job running errands for the Ramada Renaissance Hotel near Dulles International Airport. When younger hotel workers call him "pop," "old man" or "sweet Bill," Brennan said, he just laughs.

"I'm a little slow, but I'm methodical," said the lean, 64-year-old Brennan, a retired federal employe, a graying father of 10 children and a grandfather of eight.

He is one of a new breed of workers that hotel managers hope will replenish a dwindling labor pool in the Washington suburbs, where the number of hotels has increased in recent years but where most residents have jobs.

Hotel officials in Fairfax County and other suburbs say they are so short of help that they are raiding senior citizens homes, agencies for the handicapped and refugees, high schools, laundromats and churches. "We know all the pastors, just about," said one hotel manager in Tysons Corner, where four hotels have opened in the past five years.

The problem could get worse. Fairfax County officials say more than 30 new hotels or expansions are proposed in the next three years, though consultants who track hotel development say they doubt that some will be built. Eleven new hotels or expansions are planned in Arlington in about the same period, while Alexandria has proposals for four and Prince William County for five. Prince George's County notes plans for 16 hotels, and Montgomery County has received plans for seven.

Hotel analysts say the hotel boom could translate into a demand for several thousand workers.

The labor shortage in suburban hotels and elsewhere is another palpable sign of the suburbs' success and reaffirms that the Washington area, where the economy was once dominated by the District, now has flourishing economic centers scattered around the Capital Beltway.

Hotel development has come almost in tandem, according to Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert. "It used to be that corporations flew into National {Airport} and stayed in Washington," Lambert said. "Now they're flying into Dulles and staying in Fairfax . . . . It's showing further spinoffs for corporations locating here."

However, the slim pickings in the suburban worker pool, some say, may be symptomatic of a broader problem for the economy of the suburban communities.

"The development of hotels will only exacerbate the current situation," said Jay Langford, chief of research for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "If the current hotels are having trouble, future hotels will have the same problems."

Terri Bucklin, personnel director at the 24-story Sheraton Premiere in Tysons Corner, said, "We're going to any course of action to get employes here." The Premiere opened a year ago and recently had about 20 job openings. Bucklin said the Sheraton staff has patrolled bus stops on Rte. 7 with balloons and fliers in hope of luring potential workers.

"There's the difficulty in transportation, and you don't have the caliber of individuals in the Fairfax area willing to work in menial positions and work with their hands," Bucklin said.

The hotel employment woes are an increasingly common refrain from the service industry generally. The scramble is on to fill jobs that require little or no skill, such as waiting tables, scrubbing bathrooms or gracefully swinging open hotel doors.

In prospering areas such as Fairfax, where 77 percent of the working population holds white-collar jobs, hotel officials say the problem of labor scarcity seems particularly acute because of low unemployment.

The unemployment rate is 2.4 percent in Fairfax, 2.5 percent in Arlington, 3.3 percent in Alexandria, 2.6 percent in Prince William and 2.5 for Northern Virginia as a whole.

In the District of Columbia, it is 7.5 percent, about 25,000 people. The rate is 2.6 percent in Montgomery and 3.6 percent in Prince George's.

The shortage "will get worse," lamented Louis Marcus, the general manager of the Ramada Hotel in Tysons Corner. He beckoned to a waiter, a 17-year-old high school student, for a spoon and some sugar for his coffee.

There have been various programs to match District residents with suburban jobs, and they report varying degrees of success.

However, program officials say that the hurdles of getting city residents to suburban work places for generally low-paying, entry-level jobs may be too difficult for some to overcome.

An ambitious regional employment program launched by D.C. Mayor Marion Barry two years ago "is working as well as could be expected," said Foster Shannon, a businessman who chairs the program. The District's Department of Employment Services program, which pays 10 weeks' worth of public transportation fares, has found suburban jobs for 877 D.C. residents since it began, said program assistant Pamela Kelly.

The director of another employment program cited transportation difficulties for poor residents as a major stumbling block but noted that race may be a factor in hiring practices.

"D.C. kind of has a stigma. They {suburban employers} shy away from it," said the Rev. Thomas Knoll, executive director of Community Family Life Services. "There's a perception that it's poor, it's mostly black, that the population is not necessarily reliable. We're proving that myth is wrong."

Knoll's organization provides an employe transportation assistance program that has placed Washington residents in 510 suburban jobs in the past two years. The employer, employe and federal government pick up the transportation costs.

The growing imbalance in jobs and labor supply in the hotel business and other industries may dim a bright future for development in Fairfax and other suburban communities, according to Philip Dearborn, the executive director of the Greater Washington Research Center.

"The implication for the cost of doing business is not good," Dearborn said. "It's going to drive up the costs and, in the long run, make us less competitive, particularly with areas like Houston or Cleveland."

In the meantime, hotel managers, many of whom said they were unaware of the regional employment programs, said they are still looking for workers.

Gloria Laino, the Dulles Marriott's human resources director, said her staff has contacted retirement homes, gone into laundromats and attended job fairs in search of prospects.

"It's not anymore like people come to you for a job. You have to sell the job," Laino said. "It's a very big headache. You need to do a lot of creative recruiting."

The situation has become so competitive that one suburban hotel official said managers have been spotted discreetly passing business cards to workers in other hotels and restaurants.

"We're seeing a few of them," said the official, who asked not to be identified. "There's nothing really against it, but it stretches the ethical standards between hotels, stealing employes from other hotels."

In Fairfax County, the school system's hotel management coordinator said requests from hotels for students enrolled in her course have quadrupled in the past five years.

"We have many more jobs to fill than we have students and are actively seeking students outside the program," said coordinator Lynn Mason. More than 50 students have found jobs in as many as 40 hotels and restaurants during the past year.

At the Tysons Corner Marriott, the hotel management is directing some of its hiring efforts to the mentally and physically handicapped.

One new housekeeper is Mary-Anne Curfs, 24, who begins her 45-minute commute from her Northeast Washington group home at 6 o'clock every weekday morning. She walks to the subway, which speeds her on to a bus stop in Fairfax County for the last leg of her commute.

For the hotel, the experimental program is a way to introduce a new set of laborers into the squeezed job market. "We're looking more at hiring the handicapped and displaced workers," said personnel director Ron Wallace.

The hotel has a contract with a private vocational training agency that pays the six handicapped persons who work in the hotel.

For Curfs, who is mentally handicapped, the housekeeping job, which pays about $1.79 an hour, is a way to gain fresh experience and a dose of independence. "It's a lot of hard work," she said, vigorously swirling a cloth on a bathroom mirror. "But I like it."