Among financial journalists, Fortune Magazine's annual surveys of top industrial and other corporations often are mined for benchmark data on size and rank.

Another index of American industry is published by Forbes, which builds one issue each year around its own "yardsticks of management performance" profitability, growth of sales and earnings per share and stock market gains.

Data are published not only for recent 12-month periods but also for the most recent five years.

The Forbes 30th annual report, in the issue dated Jan. 9, provides for investors and students of business the vital statistics of the 1,005 largest public companies in the United States -- firms with annual sales of more than $250 million whose stock is traded on the nation's securities exchanges.

Of the companies so listed, more than two dozen are based in Maryland, Virginia or District of Columbia. And a few of the regional firms are among the top performers in all of industry, according to the Forbes data.

If you're tracking growth, for example, Best Products Co., the Virginia catalog specialty retailer clearly is the regional champion.

Of all 1,005 firms in sales growth over the past five years, Best was ranked No. 7, with average annual gains of 56.5 per cent. For earnings per share, Best was No. 27, based on an average growth of 43.1 per cent over the five years.

For stock market performance, the best record by a company based in this region was compiled by Reynolds Metals Co., of Richmond, one of the nation's largest producers of aluminum.

Reynolds was No. 85 on the list of 1,005, with its stock price gaining 92.2 per cent in value over the last five years -- trading from a low of $12 to a high of nearly $45 a share and quoted in the Forbes survey at $30.75 recently (in its current range).

In the Forbes measures of profitability, no regional firm was among the top 100. Ethyl Corp., of Richmond, a manufacturer of petroleum and industrial chemicals and aluminum products, was No. 138 in return on equity -- an average 20 per cent annual increase over five years in the return of stockholders' capital invested in the firm.

The other regional company among the top 200 on the Forbes profitability list is The Washington Post Co., No. 177, with a five-year average return on equity of 18.8 per cent per year.

In addition to such numerical rankings, the Forbes survey also provides data on various industry groupings.

Take, for example, the leisure industry, which includes travel, entertainment, recreation, publishing and food service firms. The Six basic travel companies listed are Loews, Hilton, Holiday Inns, Hyatt Corp., Ramada Inns and Washington's Marriott Corp.

Among these businesses, Marriott is No. 3 in return on equity (five-year average of 11.5 per cent), No. 2 in sales growth (20.2 per cent annually over the five years) and No. 3 in growth of earnings per share (14.9 per cent annually).

Of 16 publishing firms, the Post Co. earnings per share growth was No. 1; return on equity, No. 4; and sales growth, No. 6.

Three area utilities -- Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., Potomac Electric Power Co. and Virginia Electric & Power Co. -- are ranked Nos. 8, 9 and 10 among 11 Southeast electric companies in terms of return on equity. But Pepco is third among the Southeast utilities in growth of earnings per share over five years and Vepco is fourth in sales growth.

For Fairchild Industries, the aerospace and communications company with a headquarters complex in Montgomery County, the Forbes data show the impact of increased production of fighters for the U.S. Air Force.

Although 14th among the 15 aerospace giants in the survey for return on equity (6.4 per cent average), the local firm was fifth in growth of earnings per share. That growth performance earned for Fairchild the No. 90 position among all 1,005 corporations with an average growth in earnings of 29.5 per cent a year.

Among other regional firms that show up in the Forbes survey, with their highest rankings, are Allegheny Airlines (949 in profitability); Black & Decker (399 in profitability); Federal National Mortgage Association (183 in growth); Garfinkel, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Rhoads (599 in profitability); and Giant Food, Inc. (500 in growth).

Also: Government Employees Insurance Co. (934 in growth); Martin Marietta Corp. (227 in market performance); Maryland cup (555 in growth); Norfolk & Western Railway (182 in growth); Peoples Drug Stores (587 in market performance); A. H. Robins (208 in profitability); Southern Railway (324 in market performance); U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty (281 in market performance): and Washington Gas Light Co. (462 in market performance).