Last week USA Today published the second of a two-part article by Steve Strauss, the author of “The Small Business Bible,” that attempts to identify the top 10 big trends in small business for 2008. Not surprisingly, the economy, which many experts believe is feeling the ripple effects of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, ranks high at number 4.

“For the small business, the effects are substantial,” Strauss writes. He says falling housing prices, rising interest rates and increased mortgage defaults will mean that small businesses, especially start-ups, will find it harder to tap into home equity to fuel their operations and cash flow. He also says the credit squeeze, which many economists feel will worsen this year, will make it tougher to obtain a regular business loan.

Economic storm clouds appear to be upon us. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said as much when he spoke in Washington last week. Blaming banks that are avoiding mortgage-related investments and bad consumer debt that’s resulting in shaky stock performance by credit lenders, the Fed chairman expects a recovery late this year or early in 2009. However, he was less optimistic about the growth outlook.

But that doesn’t mean your small organization should operate under a similar purview. Our research, including most broadly and recently data from the 437 companies who completed applications in our Top Small Workplaces recognition project last year, shows that the companies that are able to best weather economic downturns are those that create great workplaces.

One of our resolutions this year is to provide small business decision makers with opportunities to really hone in on what the Top Small Workplaces are doing that makes them so successful when it comes to attracting and keeping their people, harnessing their potential, surviving market fluctuations and executing business models that are setup for long-term results. For several months we’ve offered a detailed report that examines the statistical data in the applications as well as the qualitative themes that emerged among the 15 Winners.

With our expanded webinar series for 2008, we’re taking the raw data and making it come alive with the help of our 2007 Top Small Workplace Winners and Finalists, as well as Best Boss award winners from years past. These intimate, hour-long sessions will feature small business leaders tackling some of the most pressing topics for small firms today, including how they’ve addressed them in their workplaces and tips on pitfalls to avoid. Attendees of our two sessions last year love the direct access they get to these CEOs with the ability to chat in questions as they think of them.

With the dreaded “R” word coming into accepted business parlance again, your primary focus this year may be to retain your people and avoid layoffs. One of the ways to do this without breaking the bank, smart firms have shown, is to help improve employees’ work/life balance. Our first webinar this year, on February 20, will show how the leaders of PR firm Guerra DeBerry Coody and architectural firm FRCH Design Worldwide have used family-friendly workplace practices to both keep their people and achieve desired business outcomes.

The next three sessions continue the theme of taking the oft-used but in many cases unrealized notion that “people are our greatest asset” from the annual report page to real-world demonstration. On March 19, the CEOs of Top Small Workplaces Gentle Giant Moving Company and Healthwise will explain how to grow leaders from within; on April 23, 2006 Best Boss Mike Faith of Headsets.com and 2007 Top Small Workplace Finalist Ryla Teleservices will advise on developing a “customer service culture”; and on May 21, the leaders of 2007 Winners Phelps County Bank and Reflexite Corporation will outline the steps needed to create a strong mentality of ownership among employees.

In his top 10 list in USA Today, Strauss puts increased computer mobility, encompassing such trends as flex-time, working from home or on the road and virtual offices, at number 2 on his list – the same position as on his 2007 list. Later in the year two of our webinars, “Maintaining Community in a Virtual Workplace” and “‘It Pays to be a Geek’ – A Hot Off the Press Report by CDW,” will help small business decision makers sustain their cultures as they go ever more virtual, and leverage technology to empower people while keeping them from getting lost in the shuffle.

As we work to bring you more ways to tap into what the most innovative small organizations in the country are doing to succeed in general, and to keep thriving in turbulent times, we’d like to hear from you. What topics would you like to see covered, and in what format?