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  Dutch business consulting firm Flex Group has been ranked first on Europe's top 500 list of the fastest-growing small and medium-sized companies.
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The Flex Group was followed by over-the-counter drug supplier Omega Pharma and biotechnology firm Eurofins, both of Belgium.

Manufacturing, software and consulting firms took the top places on the list, which ranks companies by percentage increases in jobs and profits over the previous five years. The current list covers 1997-2002 and the sluggish economy has been blamed for more than half of the list being blank for the first time. Only 247 companies created new jobs at the 30pc rate required to make the list, which originated in 1996 with EU support and is sponsored by Microsoft, 3i, the Boston Consulting Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Manufacturers made up one-quarter of the list, followed by software firms and white-collar services. The companies created a total of 111,116 positions over five years and averaged a 23 percent annual rise in profits. Nearly three-quarters of them are privately owned and more than half employed fewer than 100 people in 1997.
 
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