FSB 100: Meet America's fastest-growing small companies
See how the strongest small public companies push through tough times.
(Fortune Small Business) -- It takes more than a little adversity to stop the fast-growth companies on this year's FSB 100.
The resilient firms you're about to meet hail from all quadrants of our list and span a range of industries. Consider Astronics (ATRO) (No. 1), a diversified aviation-parts manufacturer that one day realized it couldn't be all things to all customers. Astronics achieved stellar results by shedding less profitable divisions and targeting its most promising product: aircraft lighting.
Or consider Jones Soda (JSDA) (No. 76), an offbeat beverage maker that weathered a disastrous expansion plan and learned from its mistakes. The tall poppies on our list have managed to grow through good times and bad by adapting resourcefully to new market conditions.
"You have to reinvent your business at least every ten years," says Mark Gorder, CEO of electronics manufacturer IntriCon (IIN) (No. 22), a firm that made auto parts and blast furnaces before finding its niche selling microelectronic components for a broad range of applications.
As in the past, our eighth annual list of the fastest-growing small public companies in America includes only those with annual revenues of less than $200 million and a stock price greater than $1. We ranked them based on growth in earnings per share, revenues, and stock performance over the past three years.
Technology firms make up a quarter of this year's FSB 100, up from 18% in 2007. Close behind come 24 companies operating in the supposedly dying manufacturing sphere (down from 25 last year). These innovative metal-benders produce everything from heated car seats, in the case of Amerigon (ARGN) (No. 15), to equipment for the red-hot oil and gas exploration market, made by such firms as Bolt Technology (BOLT) (No. 3), OYO Geospace (OYOG) (No. 14), and Mitcham Industries (MIND) (No. 20).
Joining these sprinter industries is health care, an FSB 100 mainstay. This year the category includes 16 companies (up from 11 in 2007). With its high costs and uneven results, our health-care system creates a "bonanza for innovation," says J.B. Silvers, faculty director of Case Western Reserve University's Health Systems Management Center in Cleveland.
Risk is a constant for FSB 100 companies, most of which operate in turbulent, fiercely competitive markets that demand rapid-fire decision-making. That can yield unexpected results. Despite rising fuel costs, only six energy firms made this year's list, down from 11 last year. One of the missing, Dawson Geophysical (DWSN), outgrew the FSB 100, with 2007 revenues of more than $200 million. The other four failed to produce the rapid growth required for inclusion.
"High oil prices translate into growth in revenues, which doesn't necessarily mean earnings growth," says Kenneth Stern, managing director of energy consulting firm LECG in New York City.
This year more than half the companies that made our 2007 list are absent, and 49 firms make their FSB 100 debuts. For investors the flip side of risk is reward: This year's FSB 100 stocks posted an average annual return of 9.05% for the year ended April 2, 2008, compared with -17.36% for the Russell microcap growth index. The firms on our 2007 list posted an annual return of -4.5% for the same period.
Unbowed by challenges, the FSB 100 companies are outperforming their peers. Read on to find out how six very different companies have grown and are facing up to adversity.