Divining the best geographic areas for growing a business is tough in uncertain economic times. Lots of CEOs hitch their stars to globe-trotting customers. Some let the results of direct-marketing campaigns tell them where to expand.

Russell Inserra, he studies the regional prices of bulldozers.

Bulldozers? Inserra, the CEO of $25.6-million Triton Marine Construction, in Houston, is no economist, but tracking the regional auction prices of heavy equipment has guided the marine contractor past many an economic storm since he started Triton, in 1987.

He never bids on contracts, no matter how promising, without also considering the location. To identify up-and-coming states, Inserra compares the prices of the same equipment across the country. The higher the prices, the better the regional economy, he's found. His barometer is on the money about 80% of the time.

When fortunes shift, Triton heads for better pastures. "The country is a big sales territory," Inserra says. "I worked in Florida for two years and pulled out. It's not a good market now." His eclectic market research has helped Triton grow selectively and profitably. It ranked #429 on our 1993 Inc. 500 list.

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