We can't be sure which of the 500 companies featured in this issue will go on to become icons of American business. But we can be fairly sure that some of them will. Just as Intuit, Timberland, Oracle, and Microsoft took off from these pages to become key definers of the U.S. economy, a number of this year's crop will do the same. Some are already pretty well known. You may have sampled some unprecedented combo of ice cream flavors and mix-ins at a nearby Cold Stone Creamery (appearing on our list for the third time), or bought shoes over the Internet at Zappos.com (which makes a second showing). You may have shared photos with friends at Shutterfly, or have recently bought some clothes from American Apparel--both of them first-time honorees.

As the chart above shows, this year's Inc. 500 sets records for total combined employment and total combined revenue. I can think of a number of explanations for this, including the growth of the economy over the 24-year history of the list, the renewed vigor with which angel and venture capital is now being put to work, the power of the Internet to put growing companies in contact with larger markets, and changes in our screening criteria. Our research team, led by Inc. 500 project manager Jim Melloan, also had an impact. It did an exceptional job of examining a universe of more than 200,000 private companies and recruiting the best ones to apply.

It's clear that the total impact of fast-growing companies continues to reach new heights. It's fitting, then, that this is the largest Inc. 500 issue in years. We'd obviously like to see both of these trends continue.

John Koten