The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, but over the past year, many businesses have figured out ways to work around it. The International Monetary Fund is calling for global economic growth of 5.5% this year, which means things are inching back toward normal.

Some companies are better positioned than others to capitalize on this expected progress. Among the names most ready to move forward in a big way in 2021 are Microchip Technology (NASDAQ:MCHP), PTC (NASDAQ:PTC), and retailer Five Below (NASDAQ:FIVE). Here's what makes each of them a growth stock worth buying sooner rather than later.

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1. Microchip Technology is a stealthy game-changer

There are plenty of well-known tech sector names, but Microchip Technology isn't one of them. The $42 billion company makes an array of components ranging from microcontrollers to sensors to power management solutions. All of them are perpetually marketable, but none of them make for the sort of stock stories produced by the likes of NVIDIA or Adobe Systems.

However, for investors, a little obscurity and a lot of diversity may be just what the doctor ordered.

Yes, 2020 has been a challenging year for the organization. Sales were essentially flat for the three-quarter span ending in December, and while a recovery is taking shape, it's a slow one. Analysts are only modeling for single-digit-percentage sales growth this year, though earnings should grow at a slightly better clip. But Microchip Technology is working on some tech that just might drive fresh sales faster and farther than currently expected.

Take its new audio-video bridging (AVB) technology unveiled last month as an example. Its LAN9360 single-chip Ethernet controller provides automobile manufacturers with a simple-to-install solution that better handles the audio and video signals being transmitted to cars' infotainment systems. And just a few days ago, the company unveiled a new line of radiation-hardened power converters that are ideal for use in outer space. These advances may not sound all that exciting to the layperson. However, they're actually big deals to its client companies -- businesses that will need to solve millions of little problems to usher in the next era of connectivity technology.

2. The industrial AR market needs PTC

PTC isn't a household name either, but there's a fair chance you or someone in your household benefits from its services. The software company provides augmented-reality solutions, computer-aided design tools, and collaboration platforms just to name a few. A handful of schools are using PTC's platforms to offer online learning, and Rockwell Automation -- a robotics and automation company in its own right -- integrates PTC's augmented-reality solutions with its own hardware to get its customers up and running.

It's arguable the pandemic actually helped PTC buck 2020's broader trends. Sales through the fiscal year ending in September were up 16%, driving comparable earnings growth. Its fiscal Q1 sales were up 12% year over year on a constant-currency basis, and the company is guiding for the same pace of growth for the rest of the year. That's not red hot, but it's solid.

It may also understate just what's in store.

See, smart partnerships like the one PTC has forged with Rockwell are becoming the norm. The company also announced in February that its ThingWorx and Vuforia augmented-reality software is being integrated with Fujitsu's Smart Factory solutions. These deals put PTC squarely in the middle of an industrial and manufacturing augmented-reality market that's clamoring for solutions. IDC estimates the industrial AR market will more than double its 2018 size by 2023, while the assembly AR market is expected to nearly triple.

3. Five Below plows through the retail apocalypse

Finally, add Five Below to your list of top growth stocks to buy this month.

It's not often that a store chain earns a spot on a list of growth stocks to consider, particularly given that the so-called retail apocalypse remains in full swing. But Five Below is a compelling exception to this trend.

For the unfamiliar, Five Below operates a chain of more than 1,000 stores focused on offering trendy goods at low prices. Candy, video gaming gear, toys, and decorations are just some of its featured categories of inventory, and most items can be purchased for (as the name suggests) less than $5. Its motto -- "let go and have fun" -- speaks volumes about the premise.

It's a curious winner in a world that includes powerhouses like Amazon and Walmart, and to be fair, the COVID-crimped market environment hasn't been an easy one to operate in. Although Five Below's net sales grew 26% during its fiscal third quarter (which ended Oct. 31), same-store sales growth was a less thrilling 13%. And through the first three quarters of its fiscal 2020, overall revenue was down 5%.

Take a step back and look at the bigger picture, though. The fact that Five Below has been able to add stores and drive same-store sales growth at all is impressive, and analysts are modeling for top-line growth of 30% next year. That's expected to lead to earnings per share nearly doubling from this year's projected $2.11 to $4.05 per share in 2022. We also know that same-store sales through the first two months of Q4 have been higher to the tune of 10%, boding well for its fourth-quarter report. Clearly, something's clicking with consumers in its stores.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.