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Tech firms are the guiding stars for the Mass. economy

Technology companies — whether biotech or big data — dominate the Globe 100 list again this year, but other sectors are following their lead

Illustration by Anna Parini

They make life-saving medicines and voice-recognition software. They lease cellphone towers and produce industrial sensors. Together, they have earned many of the top spots on this year’s Globe 100 list.

Technology, broadly defined, has been the business bedrock of the Globe 100 for the past 25 years. Individual companies, and sometimes entire industries, have come and gone over that time. But the powerful influence of technology has always been reflected on the annual list of top public companies in Massachusetts. And it’s a big factor again in the Globe 100 of 2013.

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This year’s top 10 companies include the likes of Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Lexington developer of anti-infection drugs; Weston-based Biogen Idec Inc., which makes treatments for multiple sclerosis and other afflictions; and Parexel International Corp., a Waltham company that’s seeing brisk growth handling clinical drug trials for other firms.

A number of this year’s top-performing companies hail from the computer, software, and telecommunications arenas. There’s voice-recognition technology from Nuance Communications Inc. of Burlington, cellphone and broadcast towers from American Tower Corp. of Boston, and fiber lasers for telecom and medical and other applications from IPG Photonics Corp. of Oxford.

Strength in these areas comes as no surprise to Robert F. Clifford 3d with the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. When it comes to employment in the Boston area, “the major driver since the great recession has been computer systems, design, and related services,’’ he said. And over the past decade, scientific research and development services have surged 50 percent. “It’s the fastest growing industry in the Boston metropolitan area,’’ Clifford said.

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All told, technology, telecom, and biotech dominate the Globe 100, occupying 40 of the slots. But go deeper into the list and you’ll also find other sectors well represented, with 22 financial companies — insurers, banks, and investment firms — and 10 services firms, another important profession in the region that encompasses consultants, engineers, and architects.

Many highly ranked companies made big jumps upward on the 2013 list. Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., the Springfield gun maker, was unranked last year but stands atop the Globe 100 for 2013. Cubist jumped from number 76 to number six. Parexel leaped from number 79 to number five.

Many companies reached their perch on this year’s list despite an economy still struggling to regain its vigor. TJX Cos. of Framingham, a retailer to frugal shoppers, earned the number two spot on the list, rising from number 17. It posted revenue of $25.9 billion, more than any other company, followed by defense manufacturer Raytheon Co. of Waltham and data-storage giant EMC Corp. of Hopkinton. Both made the Globe 100’s top 20.

A revived IPO market helped some companies make their way onto the list with high rankings. TripAdvisor Inc., the online travel-booking company based in Newton, arrived at number 11, and Dunkin’ Brands Group, owner of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, came in at number 17.

A number of industrial companies also are featured on the list, like Cabot Corp. of Boston, which makes specialty chemicals and materials, and Sensata Technologies Holding of Attleboro, a maker of automotive sensors and controls for a number of industries. And while many of these companies posted strong revenue growth last year, executives still seem leery about the economy. Some have suggested they don’t expect a full recovery until 2014.

For 25 years, the Globe 100 has tracked the strivers of the Massachusetts economy through all of its ups and downs. This year’s list once again documents the best performances, a few fresh faces, and the enduring commercial power of technology.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.
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