updated 10/18/2004 4:19:02 PM ET 2004-10-18T20:19:02

Every year we're more particular about membership in this elite list. To qualify, candidates have to show a consistent pattern of positive growth during a five-year period, as well as over the last 12 months. With statistical help from William O'Neil & Co. in Los Angeles, we selected companies with sales in the $5 million to $750 million range ("small" by FORBES standards), net profit margins greater than 5 percent and share prices above $5 as of Oct. 1.

We excluded financial institutions because the fate of their assets is more dependent on the markets than on management; utilities, which are regulated by the government; and REITs, since they're required to pay out 95 percent of their taxable income.

That still leaves us with a diversified list of vibrant players.

In the top 10, for example, you'll find 9 different industries. Dominating the list are 31 medical products outfits, 16 computer software and equipment manufacturers and 7 oil-and-gas companies -- hardly a surprise.

There are 57 newcomers to the list. Among them: DJOrthopedics (rank 88), which provides nonsurgical products (from knee braces to bone-stimulation devices); its five-year earnings growth of 176 percent was second best among the 200. FLIRSystems (rank 59) is in the very hot field of night-vision products and thermography; bouncing back from a few difficult years, it recently won a $6.3 million contract to provide imaging cameras to the U.S. Air Force.

Some 200 Best standbys -- like military-equipment supplier Engineered Support Systems and Corinthian Colleges -- have grown too large for the list. But other onetime stalwarts, like Krispy Kreme, have been expelled. The doughnutmaker is the subject of an ongoing SEC investigation into same-store-sales accounting and bizarre earnings guidance.

A few members showed spectacular growth over the last year. RC2, (rank 43), a maker of collectibles and toys (think John Deere tractors and Nascar racers), jumped 130 places on our list thanks largely to a five-year EPS growth rate of 69 percent. Net income at Resources Connection (rank 19) leaped ahead 94 percent last year as it spread its consulting services abroad.

Additional research provided by Kurt Badenhausen, Abigail Lavin and Lacey Rose.

© 2012


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