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Germany's Mittelstand Still Thrives

These midsize companies are nimble, hungry, and global

The 33 Chilean miners trapped since Aug. 5 in a copper mine 2,300 feet below the earth's surface are relying on a tiny German company more than 7,000 miles away to help get them out.

Micon, a family-owned firm with about 60 employees in the northern town of Nienhagen (population 6,300), designs and builds the precision tool that is aiding the rescue effort for the men, who became stuck after a cave-in. The equipment, made to keep deep-drilling machines vertical, is one of a range of Micon products used in mines from Chile to Mongolia. "We're engineers at heart," says Rainer Juergens, 69, who founded the company 16 years ago and owns it with his son. Micon exports more than 90 percent of its output. "By focusing on technology, we've turned a small and highly specialized company into a world leader in our niche."