Winmark Ranks #11 in The Top 20 Small Public Companies In America -

For many small businesses, this economic “recovery” has felt more like a tension headache that just won’t go away. Then there are the 100 impressive outfits on Forbes’ annual ranking of America’s best small public companies.

The list features firms with remarkable sales and earnings growth in a host of industries, from heath care to casual dining. Candidates must have been publicly traded for at least a year, generate annual revenue between $5 million and $1 billion and boast a stock price no lower than $5 a share. (For apples-to-apples comparisons we excluded financial institutions, REITs, utilities and limited partnerships.)

In Pictures: The Top 20 Small Public Companies In America

Eleven health care companies made the cut, including No. 1 ranked Questcor Pharmaceuticals. The company’s main drug (accounting for most of its $143 million in sales) is Acthar, approved in 1952 and used to fight a myriad of conditions including multiple sclerosis, respiratory diseases and rheumatic disorders. Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Acthar to treat infantile spasms. Prescriptions for patients suffering from MS—about $50,000 a pop—have soared in recent months. Questcor’s shares have tripled in the last 12-months, and are up 4,000% over the past four years. (Questcor is one of 27 newcomers to the Forbes best small public companies list; other highly-ranked newcomers can be found here.)

No. 2 American Public Education leads a group of four education companies, including No. 4 Grand Canyon, No. 33 Strayer Education and No. 37 Capella Education. American’s online classes—it offers 87 degree programs to 96,000 adult students—are geared towards government employees and active members of the military. Earnings have been on a tear, up 72% annually over the past five years.

Software makers dominated the list with 15 entries. No. 5-ranked SolarWinds sounds like a play on green technology, but it actually designs software that helps computer networks run better. The $171 million (sales) firm was cofounded by former Wal-Mart executive Donald Yonce, who still owns a 22% stake. The company’s 67% average return on equity over the past five years is the best of any in the top 100.

Another software maker, Interactive Intelligence, at No. 8, writes code that manages everything from customer service calls to e-mail marketing campaigns, putting it head to head with giants like Avaya and Cisco. The company notched two big wins this year: Anchor Bank (beating out Avaya and ShoreTel) and window-dresser (formerly an Avaya customer). It also boasts $90 million in cash (about $5 a share), handy for acquisitions.

Unlike other companies too skittish to add payroll, these 100 companies are hiring. During the previous three fiscal years, 84 of them boosted payroll—by an average 48%—adding a total of 56,885 heads. A vast majority of those came aboard during the natural course of business, not via acquisition.

Masimo (No. 19)—maker of pulse monitors that reduce false alarms by 95%—added 1,049 jobs over the previous three fiscal years, a 78% increase. The company says it has 84 open positions still to fill, mainly in sales and marketing. (For a list of the most prolific employers from the list, click here.)

Even in the toughest of times, the best companies—small and large—find a way.

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