Winning Workplaces and Wall Street Journal Top Small Workplaces 2008: Distinguished Finalists

Winning Workplaces received over 400 applications for this year’s Top Small Workplaces program. These included many great organizations who have produced impressive business results through enlightened people practices. Below is a list of our notable finalists and their accomplishments:

Crop Quest, Inc. 
Since 1992 Crop Quest has specialized in crop consulting and Precision Agriculture services. Today, the company consults on over 1.2 million acres of farmland in 6 states across the High Plains. With 100% of the company owned by its 75 employees, each person begins earning stock after one year of employment, and the president owns shares on par with other employee-owners. Books are open and financial statements are explained to all as part of the company’s open communication initiatives. 100% coverage of family health insurance premiums, an excellent retirement plan, competitive wages, flexible work schedules, company truck & ATV and annual ski trip encourage staff to stay on-board with an average retention rate of 10 years. A successful summer internship program routinely draws college students to join the network of highly trained agronomists in their quest for agricultural excellence.

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Edmunds.com, Inc. 
Founded in 1966, Edmunds.com, Inc. has become the go-to source for automotive information and transaction prices. Since launching the first automotive information website in 1995, Edmunds has grown to more than 430 employees and become essential to millions of automotive consumers, enthusiasts and insiders for its extensive data-driven websites which empower, engage and educate the market. Employees love being a part of an industry leader and enjoy a very generous benefits package, including tuition reimbursement up to $25,000 and an eight week, 80% salaried maternity leave. To ensure cross-functional communication, on a regular basis different departments highlight the objectives of their groups and explain how their output fits with company initiatives. Further interdepartmental teamwork is fueled by impromptu sessions across their newly designed, open-format workspace. These eye-catching headquarters reflect the overall business ethos at Edmunds – comfortable, dynamic, engaging and built to perform.

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Flair Communications Agency, Inc. 
While the marketing industry has become increasingly consolidated over the years, Flair Communications, a 64-employee marketing firm based in Chicago, has remained passionately independent. Lee Flaherty chose an 1883 mansion to set up shop when he began the agency in 1964, and his dedication to the tenets of independent entrepreneurship continue to infuse the business, fostering a culture described by clients as “a living breathing organism.” A veritable gallery of fine art and past projects, the workspace itself reflects the company’s vibrant and dynamic character. In an industry that sees an almost annual reshuffling of talent between agencies, the average tenure at Flair is over a decade. Staff enjoy the lack of bureaucracy and a policy of open dialogue and debate, while seminars, programs and lectures by outside sources keep employees knowledgeable with the newest twists in marketing. Flexible work arrangements, sponsored participation in local sporting events and opportunities to experience the rich culture of Chicago all add to the appeal of working at this impressive agency.

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Forum One Communications 
Forum One Communications is a full-service web strategy and applications provider that works with nonprofit and government agencies to develop and implement web strategies and enable them to reach their target audiences around the world. Founded in 1996, their tag line is “communicate, collaborate, change the world,” and their 35 employees stand behind the mission. A company built upon social awareness, many employees are returning Peace Corps volunteers keen on developing new strategies in “intellectual-commerce” while working with an agency “where you can feel like you’re doing something worthwhile.” The human resources department here is entitled “Staff Satisfaction,” emphasizing a focus on the freedom, open communication and flexible work arrangements which are tenets of Forum One. All benefits are available for employees working 25 hours or more, and individualized career tracks, mentoring, and support in the form of extensive work in teams explain why turnover of junior employees remains below ten percent.

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G & S Research, Inc. 
Involvement and project ownership among employees at all levels lie at the core of G & S Research, a healthcare market research firm that provides decision-making information to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Founded in 1997 by individuals who saw an opportunity to create a market research firm with a distinctly collaborative work environment, G & S actively explores new ways to engage employees and foster communication. Now with revenues growing 20% a year, the firm provides its 39 employees and their families with complete medical coverage, as well as an attractive 401(k) match, generous profit sharing, wellness program and unlimited tuition reimbursement. Flex-time and telecommuting allow staff the flexibility to manage their personal lives, and a host of workshops, conferences and training allow people to participate in a top notch research firm which remains a collegial organization.

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Global Energy Partners, LLC 
Energy efficiency is a hot topic, and Global Energy Partners, a ten-year-old consulting and applied research firm with 45 employees, is right in the thick of it. The employee-owned firm, which advises corporate, government and utility groups on environmental concerns and ways to cut energy usage, has doubled in employees and tripled in revenues in the last three years. Attracting and retaining the expert staff needed to meet client requirements has led the firm to create jobs that match the unique skills and scheduling demands of its associates. The company also provides solid 401(k) matches, and all 45 associates, including part-time and temporary employees, are eligible for generous benefits. New employees participate in a discussion of their future at the company and potential for individual growth, with three- and six-month follow-up conferences to discuss their path. Their “Innovation Forum,” an incubation chamber for fresh ideas, encourages all employees to participate in top-level, strategic thinking about the company’s growth.

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HUI 
HUI, founded in 1933 to fabricate sheet metal, has redefined itself in the last five years from a commodity producer to a manufacturer of low volume, quick turn, highly engineered products. This shift has been key to the survival of the 119-employee firm in a global economy, and has rebranded HUI as a success story in manufacturing. This transformation has affected nearly every facet of the business – a lean manufacturing culture now permeates operations, customer relations are a priority for all teams, and sales and marketing have adopted a design and value-add approach. Culturally, it has become a learning environment, supportive of experimentation and geared toward maximizing the potential of all employees. Associates in all teams (not simply the shop floor) now undergo heavy cross-training, with lots of formal training in group dynamics and communication. Employees have responsibility for measures such as revenue and quality control, and teams hire and fire their own members. The results: Revenues have grown by nearly 50% in the last five years; employee tenure averages eight years and turnover is around 10%.

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JFNew 
Founded in 1989, JFNew offers natural resources and ecological consulting services including wetland consulting, natural resources management, native plant supply and installation, lake and stream restoration and maintenance of natural areas. Based in regions once dependent on manufacturing or agricultural industries for jobs, JFNew, with 107 employees, sets a fine example for growing business in new markets. JFNew is creating job growth and opportunities for their employees while also positively impacting local ecosystems. Clients and staff alike applaud their strong values, which attract top talent insistent on an appreciation for conservation and an environmental ethic. Known as a leader in environmental consulting in the Midwest, JFNew champions new research and innovations, offering its staff continuous and extensive learning opportunities in order to serve as a leading-edge problem-solver for clients. It’s not at all uncommon to hear staff say, “I enjoy every day here.” Rich with passionate, educated staff, JFNew leaves its clients informed and with new perspective. As one put it, “They’re not just making a product, they’re making a difference.”

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Kaufman, Rossin & Co. 
Jim Kaufman and Jay Rossin wanted to build an accounting firm that went beyond the norm, and what began with two young partners in 1962 has become a 270 employee firm distinguished by professional integrity, employee development and open advocacy for “Joy at Work.” Dynamic, innovative and fun, Kaufman, Rossin & Co. offers auditing, accounting, tax services and consulting solutions in an industry otherwise known for its stuffy workplaces and high stress. “I see myself here for the rest of my career,” says one employee, “because of the way I am treated.” Kaufman and Rossin set out to create the kind of place where employees would want to come to work every day, establishing an inviting atmosphere with retirement support, a wellness program and a continuous learning program which offers over 300 classroom sessions per year. When the industry was suffering from slim numbers of graduates in the field, Kaufman, Rossin & Co. still saw hundreds of resumes coming in, thanks to innovative efforts including text-messaging and YouTube to spread the word. As one employee described his experience since being hired, “I feel like I hit the lottery!”

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Leaders Bank
Leaders Bank provides commercial banking services to meet the financial needs of privately held businesses, owners and entrepreneurs. Since its founding in 2000, Leaders has set itself apart as an innovative business and employer of choice, growing 85% in revenue over the last three years and going from nine to 73 employees in the last eight years. As the name implies, the bank fosters individual, organizational and industry success by treating employees and customers as leaders, identifying the strengths and professional competencies that will most energize productivity, while empowering employees to challenge their limits, take risks and make autonomous decisions. Instructor-led classes and self-directed online learning programs offer courses that are tailored to career paths, and interactive “Learn at Leaders” classes openly explore company financials and money matters beyond the workplace. Additionally, employees enjoy great medical coverage, monetary incentives for making healthy choices through their innovative wellness program and a sense of camaraderie that is felt openly whether behind teller windows or at their ever-popular company softball games.

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Menlo Innovations 
The highly engaged, interactive team approach used by Menlo Innovations, a custom software design and development firm founded in 2001, isn’t just extremely effective; it’s a blast to be a part of. As one of their 13 employees aptly puts it, “It doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun!” With a very strong focus on personality and human relationships, the firm bases their approach on “Extreme Programming,” in which all team members are paired while they work and employees work closely with mentors. It begins with “Extreme Interviewing,” which allows the team to look at how people interact in small groups, ensuring they have exactly the right fit for this unique environment. Social skills and technical ability are honed through weekly lunch-and-learns, in which staff present on a compendium of topics, and the “Daily Stand Up” meeting, where employees take turns giving short project reports. In the face of an exodus of work offshore, Menlo continues to convince clients of the value of keeping work stateside. Their deep cultural understanding of clients, combined with the use of leveraged play in contracted work, leaves clients delighted in the degree to which Menlo is invested in the outcome of their projects.

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PRIZIM Inc. 
Founded in 1996, PRIZIM has become a leading provider of environmental management consulting services. Recognized by the U.S. EPA and other national programs for sustainability and environmental stewardship, PRIZIM has attracted top talent to its suburban Maryland location with its renowned expertise and integrity, generous insurance arrangements and appealing benefits in the form of exotic travel and top-notch training. An ESOP organization, books are made open, and all 31 employees are trained in how to read the company financials. “Ethics Programs” reinforce their dedication to non-negotiable values, while an ongoing “Corporate Citizenship Program” allows employees to select several opportunities each year to assist public groups in achieving positive environmental impact. Whether it’s team hikes over lunch, the informal atmosphere maintained in the office or the flexible arrangements adopted for travel, employees agree that PRIZIM always looks for what will work the best in each scenario, whether for clients or staff members.

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Radio Flyer Inc. 
Founded in 1917 by Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin, Radio Flyer’s iconographic red wagon has been in continuous production for over 90 years. Still owned by the Pasin family, now led by the third generation with Robert Pasin as Chief Wagon Officer (CEO), the 55-employee company also makes bikes, trikes, scooters and pedal-powered cars, in addition to a variety of wagons. A shift to molded plastic products and cost pressures led the firm to dismantle its manufacturing processes, and establish a Radio Flyer International Team in China, including COO Paul Pasin. A recent re-articulation of Vision, Mission and Values is reinforced through professional goals, action steps and individualized job-specific development plans for each individual each year. To support success, extensive learning and development experiences are offered to all employees and managers, onsite and offsite. Progress is measured through annual 360 feedback surveys, and a focus on building relationships across departments is kept active through monthly company-wide meetings that include educational activities and special celebrations to express company values.

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Rawle Murdy Associates 
Rawle Murdy Associates is an international, high-performance marketing, advertising and public relations firm operating from historic downtown Charleston. Founded in 1975, the firm is recognized for attracting high-caliber talent from other markets with its comfortable work atmosphere. Known for its very entrepreneurial and self-directed environment, “They really want you to jump right in to the deep end,” says one employee. The firm demands that their 64 employees know their way around the business, thus books are open, financials are taught, and the workspace has even been reorganized so that all departments sit together, with arrangements rotated every six months. Cross-departmental training, in public speaking and communication, is offered to staff of all levels alongside regular “Leadership Lunches” with the Chairman and President. In addition to the $100 cash they annually give each employee for every year they’ve worked there, medical, dental and 401(k) support are bolstered with tuition reimbursement.

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rbb Public Relations 
“Open Door” policy? At rbb Public Relations, they’ve gotten rid of all the doors. It’s open book, open dialogue and open offices at this results-oriented, full service PR firm. Extremely stiff competition for internships at rbb illustrate the interest in this firm, known for its excellent performance, flexibility and progressive work environment. Founded in 1975, rbb is woman run and woman owned, growing steadily every year in an industry dominated by large corporate service providers. The design of their office typifies their philosophy – it’s about sharing ideas, being creative and getting things done. Performance bonuses are given to teams who have added the most value to a client, while every employee belongs to one of five extracurricular groups, giving staff ownership of the firm’s culture. Each of their 28 associates can determine his/her own schedule and choose the location where work will be done, taking advantage of the company-issued cell phones to maintain rbb’s signature responsiveness. Overall, rbb encourages professional development and internal promotion of its team. Says one member, “they invest in me, believe in me, and want me to grow.”

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Rosenblatt Securities Inc. 
An agency-only brokerage with 39 employees founded in 1979, Rosenblatt Securities Inc. matches clients’ orders with others in the marketplace, without using their own capital to take the other side of any customer orders, as most other brokerages do. Arguing that this allows their objectives to remain more aligned with those of their clients, Rosenblatt also proposes that employees who are working to their fullest potential will provide the greatest service to clients. The firm evaluates the communication and work-environment needs of each of its employees and modifies project plans to be more in line with the styles of the teams handling them. Proper support, they argue, includes mental health along with the physical health of associates and their families. Additionally, the firm encourages employees to grow and develop by paying for external education. Equities trading has been a rough road during the past couple years, yet efforts to maximize associate potential and diversify in advance of this period have resulted in more than doubled revenues and headcount at Rosenblatt.

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Southwest Michigan First 
Since 1999, Southwest Michigan First, a privately funded, nonprofit group, has served as the Kalamazoo region’s “Economic Catalyst,” dedicated to the creation, attraction and retention of jobs in Southwest Michigan. Invoking a philosophy akin to Ewing Kauffman’s, Southwest Michigan First fights to improve the lives of its community members through the proliferation of well-paying jobs with health care benefits and solid retirement programs. Southwest Michigan First models the practices it seeks to bring to the community not only by creating a collaborative work environment in which team members are empowered to grow within their jobs, but also by encouraging them to “grow their jobs” and expand the capacity of the project. Benefits are generous and include 100% of health insurance paid for by the organization for each of the eight employees and their families. Having helped to develop almost 7,000 jobs in Southwest Michigan over the past three years, the pride among staff is palpable, where tackling big problems with a small team is making a world of difference to their community.

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SPS Commerce 
Founded in 1998, SPS Commerce is a leader in “Software-as-a-Service” B2B integration, a critical business function necessary to automate the order and shipment cycles for retailers, distributors and suppliers. Now with 295 employees, staff size has grown 110% since 2005, largely through their employee referral program. Hiring the right people is important here, and the interview process involves multiple sit-downs with management up through the Executive Vice President of each department. “SPS University” and “SPS Fundamentals” bring each associate on board with thorough training, including courses taught by director level staff. Employees openly applaud the opportunities they’ve seen to move up and try different things within the company, enjoying plenty of outside get-togethers, flex-time and perks such as their well-equipped game room.

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Steppenwolf Theatre Company 
Founded in 1976, Steppenwolf Theatre’s ability to develop and attract world-class actors and stage award-winning productions has made the regional theater company world famous. But rarely are extraordinary theatre companies connected with good workplace practices. Now with 79 full-time staff members and 340 part-time, seasonal or artistic staff, Steppenwolf has evolved from a struggling storefront theatre to a nationally recognized company, carefully balancing a “culture of learning” with unparalleled achievement in production. The company boasts an annual audience of over 200,000 and remains one of the most sought-after employers in the industry. A combination of employee benefits and learning opportunities result in an average employee tenure of permanent staff of nearly six years. Production and administrative staff represent some of the best in the trade and enjoy a remarkably solid healthcare package and admirable 401(k) plan. Junior staff are given the opportunity to function as managers and mentors, guiding and instructing interns while gaining management skills and becoming new voices in the leadership of the arts. All associates are given ownership and agency in what they do, helping Steppenwolf remain an ever-changing, ever-improving jewel of the industry.

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Tasty Catering 
Founded in 1989 by three brothers, Tasty Catering remains family owned and operated, offering catering and event planning solutions to Chicago area corporations. A successful brand in a crowded field, the company has defined its niche with high-quality food, value pricing and excellent service. The quickly growing company sees its loyal employee base with average tenure of more than five years as key to its success and fills most job openings by promoting current employees. Complimentary meals everyday provide a time for people to meet and talk, while weekly, all-team “Monday Meetings” include discussions of business performance led by the CEO. Along with tuition reimbursement, flexible scheduling to encourage employees to further their educations, health insurance and a 401(k) match, Tasty is unique in combining these benefits with free health club membership, profit sharing, funding of employee business ventures and emergency loans in times of crisis. All this, they argue, lends to taking care of their most valuable asset, their employees, which remains their highest priority in ensuring clients receive the same quality of care.

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