Let's check in once more with that champion picker of boring stocks -- Elliott Schlang, who, along with Gregory Halter, runs LJR Great Lakes Review (216-767-1340), a Cleveland-based research service for institutional investors. Schlang recently issued a report on my favorite theme of the new millennium: innovation. In a world where profit margins are squeezed by intense competition because of free trade and technology, it's essential for companies to gain an edge, however transitory, through new products. Still, the average increase in research-and-development spending by U.S. industrial companies in 2003 is expected to be just 3.2 percent -- about half the level of recent years. But that's good news for managers with the cash and the foresight to boost R&D spending. Schlang lists eight firms -- among the solid Midwest companies he follows -- that will be capitalizing on "opportunities derived from abnormally high R&D expenditures." They are AptarGroup (ATR), packaging; Dentsply International (XRAY), dental products; Gentex (GNTX), automobile mirrors; Newell Rubbermaid (NWL), housewares, office products and toys; Respironics (RESP), breathing devices; Steris (STE), infection protection; Stryker (SYK), surgical products; and Zebra Technologies (ZBRA), bar-code printers. Check them out.

-- James K. Glassman