Winning Workplaces received almost 500 applications for this year’s Top Small Company 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:

Akraya, Inc. 
Akraya, Inc., a fast growing provider of IT, engineering and marketing talent, lives by a “We are in this together” philosophy by working hard, playing as a team and having all share in the business’s risks and rewards. Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA, with a recruiting office in India, this women-owned, 30-person firm breaks the mold of the stereotypical tough, overworked staffing office. Management takes its time to hire its talent and then helps them succeed by clarifying roles, mentoring, paying for outside education and even having them create their own business-career plan. 2009 was a challenging year for the professional staffing industry where losses were common and competition severe. In contrast, Akraya has steadily grown its revenue and profits each year. In 2009 it was named among the top 10 Best Staffing Companies to Work for in the U.S. by Staffing Industry Review Magazine.

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Azavea 
Azavea, founded in 2000 and based in Philadelphia, PA, specializes in creating software using geographic data and maps for use in economic development, land conservation and crime analysis. This 24-person firm prides itself in its ability to hire smart people to engage in intellectually challenging work that has real social value. Their interdisciplinary approach in a relaxed work setting allows them to consistently create highly crafted, user-friendly web solutions solving tough geospatial problems. Leadership generously shares profits with employees and continually challenges them to pursue their own research projects to stretch their abilities and open up new avenues for the firm. Despite the recent downturn that severely impacted many of their government and nonprofit clients, Azavea nearly doubled in size from 2006-2009.

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Cargas Systems 
In 1988, Cargas Systems, a business software firm, was founded on a vision that sought to create a values-driven workplace filled with talented, engaged and entrepreneurial people. Today, this employee-owned, Lancaster, PA-based firm has come far in realizing this vision through its practice of open-book management, collaborative decision making and profit sharing programs. Over 90 percent of the 41-person staff own company stock, accounting for its historically low turnover levels. Over the past few years, as the IT industry has experienced significant downsizing and layoffs, Cargas counteracted this trend by realigning its structure and introducing voluntary programs to reduce payroll expenses, in which 95 percent of employees participated. Today, the core workforce is intact, many voluntary reductions have been restored and the firm remains profitable.

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Cooper Pest Solutions 
Since 1955 Cooper Pest Solutions, of Lawrenceville, NJ, has offered full service pest management services for commercial and residential settings. This 66-person, family-run business has long maintained a strong customer-centric focus, due in large part to its highly cooperative culture and skilled, tenured workforce. Its leadership puts a heavy emphasis on teamwork, continuous improvement and ongoing staff development. In a climate where many industries have suffered significant losses and layoffs, Cooper Pest Solutions never stopped innovating, steadily building a national reputation for green pest management and e-commerce solutions, both contributing to its increasing profit margin over the last two years.

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Fentress Architects 
Fentress, founded in Denver, CO, in 1980, has designed iconic architectural projects worldwide valued at over $22 billion including international airports, national museums and convention centers. True to its motto, “Best People=Best Company,” the 155-person firm invests extensively in employee development, going way beyond job-specific training to include leadership development, one-on-one mentoring and scholarships to attend architectural universities. This is a firm comprised of passionate and talented individuals who have spent years honing their skills. And the company has benefitted: from 2007-2009, when the industry saw a very public slump, Fentress increased revenues over 50 percent.

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Finelite Inc. 
Founded in Union City, CA, in 1991, Finelite says it exists to “Relight 15 billion square feet of office and schools throughout the US.” True to its mission, this 108-employee company has earned a national reputation as a leader of high-quality, energy-efficient systems. In 2009, as a result of its multi-year effort to train and empower all personnel in modern manufacturing practices, Finelite achieved record levels of productivity – despite a 13 percent decrease in shipments – and was able to reduce inventory by 25 percent, significantly increasing their cash without hurting their service or suppliers. During the recent downturn, the company avoided layoffs, provided its shareholders with record dividends – even while revenues dropped 10 percent – and paid out employee bonuses at 95 percent of target levels.

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Gongos Research 
Many firms define their organizational values, but Gongos Research, a marketing research firm founded in Auburn Hills, MI, in 1991, underwent a laborious process to discover the values that drove their people and culture: Pride, Passion, Intelligence and Humanism. This process has helped to substantially improve recruitment and retention of top talent and promotion decisions at this 73-person firm. Gongos invests heavily the the development of its workforce through on-site customized training, a generous tuition program, 360-degree performance reviews and cross-functional teamwork. While the industry has been hit hard over the last two years, Gongos has remained profitable by smart strategic planning, maintaining a diverse client base, leveraging technology and by unleashing its top talent.

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Honest Tea 
Founded in 1998 in Bethesda, MD, Honest Tea, with 98 employees, didn’t become a top-selling bottler of organic tea by accident. The leaders intentionally sought to build a lean operation where employees are engaged in all aspects of the business, excel at multi-tasking and have great workplace flexibility. Several times a year, the entire workforce is enlisted in “crew-drives” where teams of employees get up before dawn, don Honest-branded t-shirts, shoulder heavy coolers and drive across the country restocking shelves, giving out samples and selling cases of tea to new accounts. This fun, physically-draining “rite of passage” reinforces team sprit and gives all a direct opportunity to effect (and benefit from) the firm’s bottom line success. In 2009, revenues grew by 17 percent.

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LoadSpring Solutions Inc. 
Lawrence, MA-based LoadSpring Solutions, founded in 1999, is laser-focused on delivering online project management software solutions to its clients around the world. As a 14-person firm, it is keenly aware of its ability to think and act faster than larger corporations. Viewing the workforce as its core asset, it invests substantially in employees’ personal and professional development and job satisfaction. In addition to funding a multitude of training, all employees, after one year, are encouraged to travel abroad and experience new cultures. Its leaders believe these company-funded adventures result in better world citizens and more enlightened employees. This in turn has impacted the business: LoadSpring has grown at a rate of 75 percent over the past six years and is poised to open its second office on the West Coast.

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M & E Painting
Founded in 2004, M & E Painting, of Loveland, CO, a residential and commercial painting business, has offered interior and exterior painting, wood staining and refinishing, as well as light trim and carpentry services. Despite the housing crisis’ effect on demand for its services, M & E increased its revenues 25 percent over 2008. This 25-employee firm’s focus on open-book management including financial training and team-based profit sharing have contributed to its success in filling all open positions from within in 2009. Notably, an industry survey revealed that M & E did better than virtually all of its peers last year, which saw flat or decreased sales.

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McGraw Wentworth 
Based in Troy, MI, and founded in 1997, McGraw Wentworth, a group insurance benefit provider, has faced a tough marketplace. In an industry where downsizing, mergers and acquisition are commonplace, this 66-employee firm has more than held its own. The company attributes its success to its unwavering focus on employees. At its core is its rigorous hiring process where they routinely spend up to $10,000 for each new recruit, putting them through a series of assessments and meetings, screening for top talent and best cultural fit. True to its motto “Organizations don’t accomplish things, people do,” McGraw, with its well-prepared staff and unusually low employee to client ratio, has had positive revenue growth for 13 years and a 97 percent client retention rate.

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McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations
When former journalists launched their Nashville, TN, public relations firm in 1987, they had two priorities in mind: to build a rock-solid team of media-savvy writers and create a relaxed, fun workplace. Accomplishing these, they reasoned, would lead to success and profits – and they were correct. The firm maintains an impressive resume of clients, which have included Al Gore, the Department of Labor, and the Houston Oliers. MP&F’s 63-person workforce benefits from a mix of mentoring, learning by doing and team support. Its culture is shaped by the abundance of good food and light-hearted pranks. While the PR industry has been hit hard in this recession, MP&F has remained profitable, maintained most of its long standing clients and avoided layoffs.

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Menlo Innovations LLC 
Since its inception in 2001, this Ann Arbor, MI-based, 15-person software design firm has maintained a reputation as one that “breaks all the rules.” In doing so, it produces phenomenal results for its customers. Menlo’s environment has no walls, offices, doors or cubes – all specialists sit next to one other with the CEO right in the middle for all to approach. Its policy of working no more than a 40-hour work week is strictly enforced – they bring on additional contract staff as needed. Additionally, their ingrained motto “Make Mistakes Faster” allows workers to adapt more quickly to tough challenges of growth. This unorthodox approach allows Menlo to develop better, cheaper software more quickly. As with most software firms, revenue at Menlo has been down for the past two years. However, it consistently outperforms the industry and remains profitable.

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NewAge Industries 
Southampton, PA-based NewAge Industries has lived up to its name by reinventing itself: from a distributor of plastic tubing to a manufacturer, to a premier provider of disposable pharmaceutical processing systems. Since its founding in 1954, this family-owned business has steadily followed its core values focusing upon customer appreciation, high ethical standards and sharing the wealth with employees. This formula has paid off. Today, NewAge employs 84 people and is a modern lean operation with a tenured workforce known for its innovation, commitment and agility. This firm has consistently been profitable throughout it 56-year history with its share price steadily increasing while those of its publicly traded competitors dropped.

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Pool Covers, Inc.
Pool Covers is a Fairfield, CA-based ESOP company which sells, installs and services swimming pool covers. Founded in 1984 and now employing 35 folks, the company has consistently seen strong returns in large part by due to its implementation of “The Great Game of Business” open-book management – practices they have been refining since 1997. To successfully adopt such practices requires patience, trust and lots of education. All employees learn about the business finances and how their role impacts the firm’s bottom line. This gives them the information and confidence necessary to provide extraordinary client care. While 2009 profits were down, they did not lose money – a stark contrast to some competitors who saw their revenues shrink 50 percent or more.

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SnagAJob.com 
Since it launched in 2000, this Glen Allen, VA-based firm has been connecting hourly workers with quality jobs in a wide range of industries. Just as they have built a vibrant one-stop community for job seekers, they seek to do the same with their 123-person workforce by investing heavily in their personal and professional development. Structured career paths have been delineated for every department and all employees develop individual learning plans, undergo 360-degree performance assessments and access a wide range of job-related and personal enhancement courses at their on-site Snagger University. While 2009 was a challenging year for the online employment industry, SnagAJob.com experienced continued growth and ended the year profitably.

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StarTex Power 
StarTex Power is a provider of electricity to residential and commercial customers in Houston, TX. Founded in 2004, this is one utility company that is already making a difference in Texans’ lives through superior customer service and competitive energy rates. Core to its success is their ability to attract and retain the best people. Leadership actively engages their 103-person staff in business decisions, rewards and celebrates employees for achieving individual and group goals and continually develops its talent through its training and mentoring programs. In an industry known for its volatility, StarTex continues to expand profitably; in 2009 revenues were up 67 percent.

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The Booksource, Inc. 
Fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit and a love of reading, the Jaffe family founded The Booksource in St. Louis, MO, in 1974. Still family-owned, it has grown substantially, selling trade books and other materials to support literacy instruction in K-12 schools. Today with its 170 person staff they are a primary vendor to many of the largest school districts in the nation. The Booksource has prospered in large measure because of its corporate culture that places a strong emphasis on respect for the extended family of employees, customers and partners. Despite a bad economic climate and significant changes in the book industry, in 2009 the company was one of only a few book wholesalers to show revenue growth.

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Torch Technologies, Inc. 
Since 2002, employee-owned Torch Technologies, of Huntsville, AL, has provided aerospace and engineering services primarily to Defense Agencies. Recognized by the Inc. 5000 as the fastest-growing private defense contractor in the Southeastern U.S., Torch incentivizes its 152 employees by letting those interested serve as project lead on small teams, as well as through open-book management and an ESOP. The company is also committed to giving back to its community: an employee-funded donation program contributes five figures annually to worthy local charities. Good or bad economy, it seems that aerospace and engineering services are always in demand; in 2009 Torch saw a 50 percent increase in revenues.

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Workplace Options 
Founded in 1982 and based in Raleigh, NC, Workplace Options provides work-life and employee support benefits to Employee Assistance Plan providers, individual companies, universities, hospitals and other organizations. This 178-person firm shows that while businesses (especially small ones) have had a tough time due to the economy, a highly engaged and unified workforce that fuels firms that exist to supportthese businesses can be profitable. Practices that contribute to Workplace Options’ success include a strong focus on filling open positions from within and benefits such as legal and personal finance advisory services.

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