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Welcome to the Business Journal’s fourth annual Best Places to Work in the North Bay.Click on the image to read other stories from Best Places to Work 2009.

The 55 companies selected this year are inspirational and instructional, providing the North Bay with key benchmarks for what makes a company a great place to work, especially in this challenging time.

We are especially pleased that along with an impressive group of 18 new winners, 10 exceptional companies have returned as winners for a fourth consecutive year. Twenty seven companies are being honored for the second or third year.

The winners, representing a broad range of industries, including banking, engineering, technology, health care, insurance, accounting, consulting, entertainment, food manufacturing, automotive, landscaping and building, will be feted at an awards reception Wednesday at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park.

Once again, congratulations to our winners. They have shown exceptional character during a very difficult time for all business. Many of the employee responses to the question added to this year’s survey, “How has your company dealt with the challenging business environment?” are inspiring. We hope you gain insight from reading these company stories as much as we did finding and telling them.

Brad Bollinger, Editor in Chief, Associate Publisher and

Sue Wildermuth-Adams, Director of Advertising, Associate Publisher

The Winners

(Listed alphabetically.)

Accuchex Corp.

TWO-TIME WINNER

NOVATO - Celebrating 20 years in business, this provider of payroll and human resource management services is committed to the health and welfare of its employees and their families.

Owners James and Leslie Rhuland believe their company is a reflection of those who work there, and that the entire staff defines their environment.

“We strive to be accessible to our staff. Our company culture fosters professional growth and personal respect for the individual and his or her needs.”

Accuchex enhances the morale and loyalty of its people through staff appreciation lunches, by sharing client accolades and through continuing education and skills training.

“The company has a socially friendly atmosphere at work, and we try to take every request from the client as personal and important and try to satisfy the customer’s needs in time,” an employee said.

Adobe Associates Inc.

SANTA ROSA - Keeping everyone informed about day-to-day events is one of the best ways to sustain an organization during challenging economic times, according to this Santa Rosa-based civil engineering, land surveying and wastewater management services firm, headed by President David Brown.

The company places great value on maintaining a comfortable work environment. It shows its appreciation by sponsoring employee picnics, summer barbecues as well as by offering health club membership assistance to its staff along with a broad range of health care options including a health savings plan and dependent care assistance.

The firm’s 27 employees agree and responded by voting their company as one of the Best Places to Work in the North Bay.

Audubon Canyon Ranch

STINSON BEACH - With a staff of 24, plus 800 volunteers, this nonprofit organization dedicated to land preservation, environmental education, scientific research and habitat restoration has retained all staff members, with no reductions in salaries, throughout the recession.

“Our culture is open and welcoming, and there are always extra hands to help when anyone is crushed by a project,” according to one employee of the organization, headed by Skip Schwartz, executive director.

In addition to being a first-time winner, Audubon Canyon Ranch also received the highest employee average rating of 4.82 out of a possible five among all winning firms polled in the Best Places to Work 2009 survey.

With an average length of employment of 11 years, some workers have stayed with the organization from 22 to 34 years.

Another employee said, “Our organization is family focused. We are also environmentally conscious and support alternative forms of travel (such as mileage reimbursement for bicycle use during work hours) and make every effort to go green.” 

Bank of Marin

THREE-TIME WINNER

NOVATO - Now in its 20th year serving the North Bay, Bank of Marin continues to expand with plans to open a new Greenbrae branch in September to bring its total to 13.

It lives up to its mission statement as “the bank employer of choice” for more than 200 workers who have named Bank of Marin as one of the Best Places to Work for three years in a row.

The bank has one of the highest percentages of women and minorities in upper management, comprising more than two-thirds of the total.

Continuous communication and updates from President and CEO Russell Colombo are among the reasons why employee morale remains high.

“Management’s focus on building customer loyalty and for employees to be the best that we can be is a priority felt across the organization. Getting staff involved with inputting ideas on how we can improve the company is very motivating,” an employee said.

Becoming Independent

SANTA ROSA - Helping those with developmental disabilities find jobs earn a paycheck, while also actively participating and becoming included in their communities, is what Becoming Independent is all about.

Now in its 30th year, BI has 330 employees, about 95 percent of whom are women and minorities.

“Changing lives of the people that we serve is highly gratifying. You feel that you are part of something bigger than yourself by working for the better good of the community,” one employee said.

BI has a culture of listening.  Regular Town Hall meetings are held with CEO Cami Weaver giving everyone an opportunity to ask questions, get feedback and share information on topics such as Budget 101, fundraising efforts and the Green Committee.

Ben Franklin Press & Label Co.

NAPA - Founded by Dennis Patterson and wife Teri Ann Faychild in 1983, the 25-year-old wine label printing company is locally owned and family run.

“We encourage an atmosphere of creativity and collaboration that recognizes the talents and energies of each individual.  In short, we value the quality of our lives as much as the quality of our work,” the company application noted.

Employees appreciate the firm’s open-door policy and willingness to support City of Napa nonprofits.

For example, Ben Franklin Press and Label Co. does all of the printing for Hands Across the Valley, an organization that raises money for the local food bank.

“Our president often makes decisions for the good of the town as well as the good of our company,” an employee said.

Bradley Real Estate

SAN RAFAEL - Keeping employee satisfaction and retention high during a slumping real estate market, while continuing to deliver superior service and proven results, has been a challenge for owner Melissa Bradley and her staff of 304 commission-based real estate agents and administrative personnel.

The firm has fun as a group and conducts contests for trips, selectS an Employee of the Year and voteS an agent to the Bradley Hall of Fame. The team maintains strong bonds by attending sporting venues, concerts and other events using the company suite at the Oracle Arena.

Employees get involved in a variety of community and nonprofit activities, such as the Novato Art and Wine Festival and the Fairfax Brew Fest, and by making financial donations to various charities.

An employee commented, “Ours is a positive work environment with a great deal of support and training. The office manager runs the office efficiently and upper management is accessible.”

Brelje and Race

SANTA ROSA - The Brelje and Race consulting engineering firm, founded in 1954, believes its success is due to its 34 employees who demonstrate a high degree of solidarity resulting in an environment of trust, honesty, flexibility and accountability, according to President John Locey.

Every employee has an opportunity to perform as a project leader, including internal projects aimed at business and morale development.

Teamwork is reinforced by the “Fun Committee,” enabling employees to organize paid trips to major baseball games, the bi-annual golf tournament, summer outings, holiday gatherings and after hours mixers.

Partners provide a consistent stream of projects for employees. There have been no layoffs, and the firm recently added to its civil engineering team.

For many years, Brelje and Race has been involved with the Russian River Watershed Cleanup project. The firm also sponsors scholarships at SRJC and the town of Windsor’s “Summer Nights on the Green” program.

Burr Pilger Mayer LLP

FOUR-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - Fun, people-driven, high-touch, client-service and community-service-oriented are the words used to describe the Burr Pilger Mayer culture.

Summer hours, jeans on Friday, telecommuting options, compressed workweeks and the new client referral bonus program are just some of the advantages offered by this accounting and business-consulting firm with 42 employees.

The firm, formerly Andersen & Company, also offers a mentoring program, BPM University, for ongoing employee education and professional development, and a staff advocacy committee, where employees can help make the firm a better place.

The firm headed by Managing Partner Stephen Mayer continually surveys its staff to improve the work environment. The company is also revising its performance evaluation process and introducing a career adviser role.

This four-time Best Places to Work winner launched BPM Day (Because People Matter) in 1998 as a community volunteer program.

“I feel people at the top are very approachable. They have given us straight talk during these challenging times,” an employee said.

CamelBak Products LLC

TWO-TIME WINNER

PETALUMA - The makers of portable backpack water carriers for recreational and military use are reinventing and forever changing the way people hydrate and perform.

“I love the products we make and the heart that goes into developing each one. I also love the fact that we have made conscious decisions to be environmentally friendly,” said one employee.

CamelBak Products takes an equally supportive role with its employees evidenced by its new vision, mission and values statements, quarterly town hall meetings and reduced 401(k) vesting schedule.

The firm, led by CEO Sally McCoy, fosters open communications at all levels as well as provides challenging opportunities for its associates to grow.

The company supports about 40 organizations including bicycle, skiing and hiking groups as well as outdoor, sporting, youth, medical, military and police organizations.

CamelBak also donates its products to six Petaluma-area schools as part of its community relations outreach program.

Carlile Macy

THREE-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA – The Carlile Macy team of civil engineers, urban planners, land surveyors and landscape architects shares the company’s optimistic vision and also has a shared sense of family that helps make it successful.

This 13-year-old company, headed by President David Hanson, is a three-time Best Places to Work winner. Carlile Macy provides continuing support and growth opportunities for its 22 employees resulting in a cohesive work group that is making a positive difference in the community.

Employees donate countless hours to community projects, such as the creation of an all-weather soccer/rugby field, “For Pete’s Sake” in Santa Rosa; the 82-acre “A Place to Play” recreational complex in northwestern Santa Rosa; and the 21-acre Tom Schopflin Fields sports complex along Old Redwood Highway in Santa Rosa.

The Carlile Macy staff also contributed its talents to the development of the Ashton Avenue 10-unit apartment complex that transitions homeless families through subsidized housing to independence.

Charter Oak Bank

FOUR-TIME WINNER

NAPA - Innovation is a hallmark of Charter Oak Bank, and employees are actively encouraged to submit ideas on more efficient ways to get things done.

This 5-year-old bank is a four-time Best Places to Work winner with a passion for helping others, a values driven culture and a commitment to the financial viability of the community.

“We have been innovative in finding customer solutions, such as our Skip-a-Payment Plan, as well as in sharing our knowledge to assure them we are a solid financial institution,” an employee said.

Charter Oak Bank, its President and CEO Brian Kelly and board members are involved in more than 50 organizations, sit on 20 boards and give 2,500 hours of community service annually.

“We know times are tough right now and have a comprehensive Employee Assistance Plan to help in time of need,” another employee said.

Circle Bank

THREE-TIME WINNER

NOVATO - Managers at Circle Bank, including President and CEO Kimberly Kaselionis, lead by example by creating a nurturing, caring and collaborative environment for customers and the firm’s 48 employees, a survey of company workers shows.

The Novato-based commercial bank did not engage in sub-prime lending and, consequently, has a strong lending portfolio. It continues to grow by offering lending solutions and by focusing on the needs of the community.

“We strive to address the needs of underserved areas, including innovative lending in the green space, assisting with workforce housing and in creating unique small business programs,” an employee said.

Women and minorities comprise 75 percent of upper management.

The application described the bank as a firm that “delivers uncommonly friendly, responsive and respectful service” and provides continuing opportunities and incentives for employees, including its HOPE program for home ownership, educational reimbursement and 10 hours of paid time off to attend children’s events.

Employees are encouraged to green their practices both at home and at work, to volunteer and to offer solutions to improve bank operations.

Coast Landscape Management

NAPA - “Happy employees make happy clients” is the credo that inspires everyone at Coast Landscape Management of Napa to transform customers into “raving fans.”

Under the direction of President Kelly Solomonm, this firm conducts a customer service seminar and has employees complete an Emergentics personality test to understand their strengths and to learn how to better communicate with clients.

The company picks up the tab for the Certified Landscape Technician test and awards employees with $1,000 for each module passed.

Coast Landscape reimburses tuition for any course that will benefit employees on the job, conducts team-building exercises and has an incentive award programs. One of the firm’s key differences is it tries to have fun while working hard.  The company received the fourth-highest rating by employees, 4.78 out of a possible 5.0.

An employee said, “It’s all about employee empowerment. All employees are encouraged to make decisions that help shape the company’s image.”

Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley

NAPA - With a staff of 127, Coldwell Banker of Napa is weathering the real estate slump by carefully monitoring and reducing operating expenses without cutting support services to its agents.

“We have enhanced in-service education for sales associates to enable them to excel in a constantly changing market. We go the extra mile for our staff and agents, support each other’s success and collaborate to solve problems,” an employee said.

Forty-three of Coldwell Banker’s 101 agents have been with the company more than 10 years. All managers welcome suggestions from everyone on a continuous basis.

Coldwell Banker received a high 4.74 employee survey average score among the Best Places to Work winners.

The firm, headed by broker and owner Carolyn Roberts, co-hosted a fundraising golf tournament for Napa Valley Community Housing, a company-wide food drive that raised thousands of dollars for the local food bank, along with a paper drive for schools and other volunteer projects.

Dal Poggetto & Company LLP

THREE-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - This accounting firm founded in 1992 has the third-highest number of CPAs devoted to the wine industry in the North Bay and is sixth largest overall in terms of the size of its CPA staff.

The firm, under the leadership of founder and Managing Partner Jon Dal Poggetto, has kept its head above troubled economic waters by investing in technology and staff training so it can increase efficiency and maintain a competitive fee structure and employee benefits.

Minorities and women comprise 75 percent of upper management positions at Dal Poggetto & Company – a three-time Best Places to Work winner.

The company is a Human Race sponsor and supports the American Cancer Society, YMCA, Youth Business Week, the Active 20-30 Club and Sonoma State University scholarships.

“We strive to recruit people that match our culture and continually work at developing our current staff. We all work to achieve a great team effort,” an employee said.

Edward Jones

THREE-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - When times are tough, individual investors rely on their financial advisers more than ever.

Keeping clients informed about rapidly changing financial situations has always been a priority at Edward Jones, but now it is an absolute necessity for the firm’s 147 employees in the North Bay – two-thirds of whom are minorities and women.

The mutually supportive culture at Edward Jones, guided by Regional Leader Scott Holder, keeps competitiveness at bay and teamwork working by providing its people with the best, most accurate and insightful information available, according to the application.

Tools enabling financial advisers to offer timely analysis include Uptick Live (weekly broadcast news), Uptick News (a daily newspaper) and Uptick Express delivering up-to-the-minute information via e-mail.

“My company puts its clients first and continues to do right by people and its employees. I feel a sense of ownership in my company, and I also feel empowered by the resources and people that surround me,” an employee said.

Embassy Suites Hotel

SAN RAFAEL - “It’s all about being hospitable and making a difference to those around you, be it to each other or to our guests,” said Pat Sorber, general manager of Embassy Suites Hotel of Marin, who heads a management team with 86 percent women and minorities.

An employee said, “We all work together to reduce expenses to offset whatever losses there may be from the downturn, without taking away from our guests overall experience.”

The company’s mission statement emphasizes family taking care of family through commitment, accountability, respect, empowerment and trust. Employees gave their company a 4.76 average rating in the 2009 Best Places to Work survey.

“The ability to make your own decisions and learn from them is what I like. We promote from within and constantly reward and train team members for their great job,” another employee added.

Environmental Resolutions Inc.

TWO-TIME WINNER

PETALUMA - This fast-track environmental consulting firm, founded in 1989, has experienced a substantial increase in revenue from new sources outside of its customary client base during the recession.

“Our greatest success is founded in our genuine care for and commitment to each other, our clients and the community. We support our colleagues by ensuring their well-being, health and safety and seek to provide them with opportunities to achieve professional and personal growth,” an employee commented.

Many members of the ERI senior management team, led by top local executive Keith Romstad, joined the firm as technicians and staff and were promoted on merit and effort.

Employee perks include year-end performance bonuses, quarterly safety bonuses, spot bonuses, flex spending accounts, educational benefits plus flexible shifts and work-from-home options.

Exchange Bank

FOUR-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - With a 119-year legacy of financial leadership and community support, Exchange Bank and its 437 employees are dedicated to serving the banking needs of its customers while also being socially responsible and locally involved.

Sixty-one employees have more than 20 years of service, and three have 40 years. Exchange Bank has been ranked among the Best Places to Work for four consecutive years.

“The last 18 months have been challenging, but our employees and local communities have supported us in our efforts to return to profitability,” said Nina Drake, vice president of human resources and training.

Exchange Bank is a corporate partner with the Sonoma County Volunteer Center and is a corporate champion with donations of more than $81,000 to the United Way. Employees have raised more than $66,000 for the 2009 Human Race, have sponsored 28 donor drives for the Blood Bank of the Redwoods while also raising more than $9,000 for the American Heart Association.

Filtration Group

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - By concentrating on quality control, this maker of precision air filters was able to maintain a measure of customer demand but still had to reduce its staff by 9.2 percent at the end of the last year.

Despite these challenges, employees filling out the Best Places to Work survey for this two-time winner scored an average 4.59 out of five for all categories.

Filtration Group applied for and received a work-share program through EDD to compensate employees as it implemented cross training in internal departments and thus was able to maintain a 40-hour workweek.

“We believe in the importance of people and are receptive to new ideas. We also embrace and honor family values in and out of the workplace,” said Alison Huber, plant manager in Santa Rosa. “The recession has been hard on everyone, and we hope to be in a position to expand in the near future.”

First Community Bank

FOUR-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - First Community Bank’s commercial real estate and construction lending business is growing and making a difference in today’s economy.

The bank, managed by President and CEO Kathy Pinkard, is devoted to seeing that the community continues to prosper. The bank prides itself on a culture that is unique, friendly, family-and community-oriented as well as supportive and fun.

The bank has 64 employees, up from 55 in 2008, and women and minorities account for more than 66 percent of senior management – even higher if branch and operations managers were included.

One employee said, “I spent the last 25 years in the title and escrow industry and was searching for a company with a superior culture that is committed to our local communities. First Community is such a firm, and I am proud to be associated with it.”

First Community and its employees support 58 nonprofit organizations and groups.

Ghirardo CPA

FOUR-TIME WINNER

NOVATO - This 9-year-old firm – and four-time Best Places to Work winner – provides a range of accounting, consulting, tax, real estate and wealth-planning services. It sustained itself through the economic crisis by expanding training opportunities and by adding new services to meet diverse client needs.

An employee said, “The partners are hard working and fair. They foster a sense of community and pride in the workplace.”

Morale is maintained by celebrating the achievements of individuals, through games and awards and also “with lots of chocolate and a new espresso machine.” Each team has a mentor responsible for providing personal and professional support and guidance.

Owners Jerry and Steve Ghirardo and other executives help their 40 employees achieve a work-life balance by offering flexible schedules and by making the firm a fun, creative place to work.

An employee said, “We have a business casual dress code, give our staff access to the on-site gym and make a Tahoe condo available to each employee once a year.”

Goodwill Industries of the Redwood Empire

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - Goodwill Industries believes in second chances and sees the importance of building skills and confidence in its 208-member staff.

CEO and President Mark Idhe manages an organization with a culture characterized by teamwork and diversity, and one that sees its mission as changing lives and strengthening communities through the dignity and power of work.

This not-for-profit organization has sustained itself through the downturn by redefining its accountability guidelines, by developing a donation drive plan to help it pursue revenues and through a continued assessment of cost containment measures, while offering greater transparency to all stakeholders.

Established in 1974, each month Goodwill invites the community to come in and see how it operates. It participates in the Human Race, local Earth Day celebrations and has hosted mixers for several chambers of commerce.

“They gave me a chance to shine and reach deep within myself to grasp the potential and gifts I did not know I had,” an employee said.

Heffernan Insurance Brokers

FOUR-TIME WINNER

PETALUMA - Heffernan Insurance focuses on creating a family-first environment where people work hard, have fun and can be themselves – and where dogs and children are a common sight in the office.

“First and foremost, they gave me the ability to be myself. I get regular feedback and know that my contributions matter and are appreciated,” an employee said.

The firm’s 32 North Bay employees believe in the company motto, “Answer the phone and have fun.”

The firm, led by Senior Vice President Elizabeth Bishop, supported the community by giving $550,000 to charities, about $1,400 per employee, during 2008. Heffernan has a community service program where staff members volunteer four days a year and receive paid time off.

In addition, Heffernan – a four-time Best Places to Work winner – has a grant program that contributes from $5,000 to $10,000 annually to nonprofits, an employee matching gift program and a Heffernan scholarship program for company families.

Idex Health & Science LLC

(formerly Rheodyne)

THREE-TIME WINNER

ROHNERT PARK - As a manufacturer of pharmaceutical, IVD, biotech, food and environmental testing equipment, Idex plans to reach $600 million in revenue by 2014.

“We have strong leadership. Even during difficult market conditions I believe that my manager is working to guide the company in the right direction,” an employee said.

This 23-year-old Rohnert Park firm with 105 employees offers a wide range of incentives to its workers, including a company-wide quarterly bonus and an on-site gym.

Idex offers discounts on cell phones and Thanksgiving gift cards, along with free flu shots, on-site massage and yoga classes – as well as Starbucks coffee – among other benefits and in-house training opportunities.

Gregory Orr, general manager of Idex, is focused on the customer as a first priority and also wants to grow the enterprise and its people.

Idex supports the community by making donations to local charities – including generous proceeds received from the Splash/Dunk Tank for company managers.

Infineon Raceway

THREE-TIME WINNER

SONOMA - One of the world’s busiest and most diverse motor racing complexes, Infineon provides a rewarding work environment dedicated to the growth and success of its 62 employees.

“Whether you work in maintenance or sales, everyone is treated equally. I feel like I have a small piece of ownership and work hard to make the raceway the best that it can be,” an employee said.

President and General Manager Steve Page keeps employees challenged and creates opportunities for promotion. This includes continuing to have employee functions and team-building exercises throughout the slowdown and by offering discounts to customers to help with retention.

Infineon hosts a Christmas party for children, participates in the FISH Adopt-A-Family program, contributes to blood drives and the United Way and has recycled 56 tons of material since 2004.

Through Speedway Children’s Charities, more than 10 events are held each year. Infineon has distributed $2.6 million to needy youth groups in Sonoma County since 2002.

Inn Marin/Rickey’s Restaurant

TWO-TIME WINNER

NOVATO - A spirit of giving is part of the culture at Inn Marin/Rickey's Restaurant in Novato. Over the years the company has donated overnight stays and $50 gift certificates for school fundraisers, Novato Community Hospital, the North Bay Children’s Center and other nonprofits.

With a mission to operate the friendliest, cleanest and best-maintained hotel and restaurant in Marin County, owners John and Robert Marshall also show their support for community by donating meeting space for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, Rotary functions and by sponsoring Cub Scout functions.

“We had to cut back hours due to the ailing economy but have tried to hold layoffs among our 48 employees to an absolute minimum. We are a family-based company, and our goal is to focus on opportunities, not failings, and to do the right thing because it is the right thing.”

Kaiser Permanente - Santa Rosa & San Rafael

FOUR-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA/SAN RAFAEL - With 4,434 employees in the North Bay, four-time Best Places to Work winner Kaiser Permanente is the largest employer in the region.

“We work as a team, take pride in our work and put patients first to ensure that they have a great experience every time they visit our facility,” an employee said.

Women and minorities represent 85 percent of upper management ranks. About 668 employees participated in the survey.

Judy Coffey, senior vice president and area manager, leads an organization challenged by the same economics affecting the state and nation but nonetheless remains “optimistic as our physicians and staff embrace performance and service improvements to reach our goal of becoming the best place to receive health care.”

Kaiser donates medical office space two nights a week to the RotaCare Free Clinic. Company physicians and staff volunteer at this facility and at the Jewish Community Free Clinic, with the American Heart Association, Healthy Kids Sonoma County and others.

Linkenheimer LLP CPAs & Advisors

SANTA ROSA - Building long-term relationships with clients and employees has helped this accounting firm pull through the challenges of a down economy resulting in more work while being more cost effective than other marketing methods.

Established in 1932, Linkenheimer, led by John Jones, managing partner, has been helping its 22 staff members, with an average tenure of 10 years, achieve personal growth and fulfillment by providing interesting and challenging work resulting in tangible rewards and satisfaction.

“There is a genuine sense of belonging and family in our firm, and everyone has an opportunity to be heard,” said an employee. “In 2008, a good portion of the staff went to Nicaragua to participate in an eye examination project where they also delivered eye glasses and much-needed supplies. I don’t know many other companies that would encourage employees to do something like that.”

La Tortilla Factory

THREE-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - Three generations of the extended Tamayo family add credence to the fact that La Tortilla Factory is truly a family of employees.

“We are a company that strives to better itself and break out of its own boxes. We are always trying new things and improving existing processes,” an employee said.

For more than three decades this firm and its 150 workers, currently under the direction of Senior Manager Stan Mead, have been producing wholesome products while contributing extensively to community organizations focusing on youth and education.

The firm sponsors on-site ESL, literacy and leadership courses and also partners with SRJC to develop and improve employee education and training initiatives.

“La Tortilla Factory is committed to satisfying its customer’s needs through innovative products that contribute to a healthy lifestyle while also maintaining the same level of employee benefits and events that were in place before the recession,” an employee said of this three-time Best Places to Work winner.

Marizco Landscaping  Management Inc.

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - Founded in 2004, today 80 percent of employees hired during the first two years are still with this landscape-contracting firm that now numbers 51 managers and staff.

President Pierre Marizco heads the 5-year-old firm that believes that keeping everyone informed and updated is a way to cope with uncertain times.

Marizco helps employees save fuel expense by transporting them from Santa Rosa to its Marin office in a company van. It has also increased the frequency of bonus pool distributions, even though profit levels for this fund have declined.

“When you are here, you want to be here. I look forward to coming to work and having a good day,” an employee said.

Incentives include free uniforms and top-of-the-line safety boots every year for front-line staff. The firm sponsors team-building strategy sessions to improve group cohesion.

Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Sonoma County

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - As one of only three firms with 100 percent employee participation in the Best Places to Work survey, Mr. Rooter is a two-time winner with a unique outlook on the workplace and the economy.

“I think of us as a dynamic, animated, accepting and supportive up-from-the-ranks company where every manager started at the bottom. Our motto is, 'Perform the duties first and then earn the title,'” said an employee.

Owners Saunda and Paul Kitchen have their 20 employees set personal, written goals that are posted for all to see. Workers are then encouraged to help each other achieve them.

Mr. Rooter has survived the depressed economy by getting everyone involved in lowering expenses and by focusing on excellent customer service and spending more time with them.

“Everyone that works here makes the dynamic of the entire team amazing. I love the people I work with and what I do,” another employee said on the survey.

NorthWest Insurance Agency Inc.

SANTA ROSA - Managers of this 31-year-old company with 72 employees believe that communicating with employees and keeping them in the know is vital so that they are not overly worried about the future.

Top local executive Mary Fairow believes that employees deserve to know the challenges the company faces and what management is doing to overcome them.

NorthWest takes pride in the fact that it is known for honesty and integrity, while also focusing on profitability and being a secure employer enabling its staff to prosper and grow to their full potential.

This policy has paid off with NorthWest Insurance employees giving the company an average score of 4.81 in this year’s Best Places to Work survey, the second-highest rating among all winning companies.

The company has an Employee Advisory Committee that provides ideas and feedback to management and allows employees to take a paid half-day off in December to volunteer at a charity of their choice.

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Nova Group(Click to read article: "First-time winner Nova Group navigates building slowdown)NoNNva

O’Brien Watters & Davis LLP

SANTA ROSA - One recipe for coping with a slow economy from O’Brien Watters & Davis includes a large measure of positive attitude mixed with an extra portion of employee assurance of how the firm is performing.

“Showing compassion to individuals whose families have been affected by the recession goes a long way,” said an employee.

Headed by Managing Partner, Michael Watters, the Santa Rosa law firm is a place where “hard work and loyalty are rewarded and individual ideas are encouraged. Teamwork is the key to the firm’s successful representation of clients,” an employee said.

The firm also encourages employees to support community programs such as the Human Race, the Sebastopol Relay for Life Team and school fundraisers. Employees serve on nonprofit boards, fund sponsorships and organize events, like a bake sale for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Pacific Landscapes Inc.

FOUR-TIME WINNER

SEBASTOPOL - “We were very aggressive at reducing expenses in our 2009 budget – without cutting major benefits,” said David Penry, co-owner of this 9-year-old landscape, construction and maintenance firm with 67 employees.

About 60 percent of the firm’s employees are Latino.

Employees and managers alike are encouraged to take ownership of their work product, be accountable, practice safe procedures and demonstrate leadership. This has led to increased levels of mutual respect and empowerment.

Eighty-seven percent of employees participated in the Best Places to Work survey for this four-time winner.

Petaluma Health Center

PETALUMA - With a mission to provide high quality health care with access for all in southern Sonoma County, nonprofit Petaluma Health Center and its 101 employees are community- and family-oriented.

“We recognize and appreciate the cultural differences in our service area and are sensitive to those differences,” a company representative stated in the application.

Chief Executive Officer Kathryn Powell heads an organization with women and minorities representing 95 percent of upper management and one in which most of the staff is bilingual.

Petaluma Health Center employees are involved in the Butter and Egg Day Parade and offer free blood pressure and glucose testing during the parade. They offer a free children’s dental clinic once a year and also sponsor flu shot clinics.

The health center's outreach includes a team that visits local churches, advising them about its services.  It has a monthly raffle where a patient can win a $500 gift card at a local grocery store.

Petaluma People Services Center

TWO-TIME WINNER

PETALUMA - Dedicated to improving the social and economic health of the community, Petaluma People Services Center provides programs that strengthen the dignity and self-sufficiency of underserved individuals.

Executive Director Ron Kirtley leads an organization that has 52 employees and 400 volunteers who were original recipients of its services and felt so indebted to the agency that they wanted to work with the service center.

“We are an organization made up of compassionate, giving people who daily go far beyond what is required to help their neighbors,” an employee said.

Most of the center’s programs deal with people who have been affected the most from the current state of the economy.

The center coordinates a Christmas Cheer program, wrapping gifts for Petaluma youth, and participates in other youth sports activities. The staff includes a Red Cross crew leader, a current president of a chamber of commerce and several workers who volunteer at the local animal shelter.

Quattrocchi Kwok Architects

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - QKA is known for its quality and environmentally sound architectural design services. Company founders believe that the firm is fortunate to be busy these days, working with creative clients whose vision includes innovation and sustainability.

Co-owners Mark Quattrocchi and Steve Kwok focus on energy conservation, with an eye toward grid neutrality, and see a path toward economic recovery and a more hopeful future for generations to come.

QKA decided to save the expense of the company’s annual ski trip this year to maintain other company events and the holiday bonus distribution.

“Communication is critical during uncertain times. All of our 44 employees are included in discussions regarding the health of our firm, its workload and future projections,” an employee said.

This process also involves creative fun and prizes, such as the firm’s Bike Rack Design Competition and annual sketching contest as well as support for several nonprofits.

REACH Air Medical Services

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - CEO James Adams heads a company of dedicated people who have a passion for service that literally involves saving lives.

One employee said, “This is truly an inspiring place to work where there is an unwavering commitment to excellence, safety and education.”

Another said, “The critical nature of our missions compels us to do what’s right for the patient. REACH also treats us right. The late Dr. (John) McDonald who founded Reach instilled this philosophy from the beginning, and it remains an important part of our culture today.”

With help from 104 employees, REACH supports the annual Drive for Kids golf tournament for children in need, the Just Go! 5K/10K Walk/Run, that benefits SRJC paramedic program scholarships, along with SRMH PACE ball for Sonoma County children’s health organizations.

Redwood Credit Union

FOUR-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - Established almost 60 years ago, RCU now serves more than 146,000 members and is the 59th largest nonprofit financial cooperative in the nation.

President and CEO Brett Martinez manages an organization with 323 employees who believe in a positive, productive and healthy team-oriented environment where everyone is appreciated.

RCU continues to offer merit increases, although smaller than in past years as a matter of prudence, and the organization has not had layoffs or reductions in hours.  About 65 percent of RCU job openings in 2008 were promotions.

Last year Redwood Credit Union supported 200 local events and programs where volunteers donated 2,800 hours of their time.

Thanking the staff for a job done well done is a high priority for this four-time winner. RCU has an employee committee called “NUTTS” (Never Underestimate The Team Spirit) that plans employee BBQs, ice cream socials and other low-cost morale boosters  during the year.

Schurter Inc.

SANTA ROSA - “Open and driven” describe the culture at Schurter, an electronic parts distributor of passive electromechanical components.

“It’s not often you find employees who treat ‘going the extra mile’ as the norm. Our president is very concerned about the well-being of his employees, and all of us care about each other and the organization as a whole,” an employee said.

The management team, led by President Bruno Schurter, shares its goals, objectives and results openly with its 20 employees – 33 percent are women and minorities. This team intends to weather the storm and appreciates the sacrifice and dedication of its employees.

“The company entered the downturn on very solid financial ground, but we started the year by developing a step-by-step cost-reduction plan,” said an employee.

“Top management has forgone salary until the company returns to profitability. Regular briefings keep everyone informed of sales and booking results.”

Sequoia Senior Solutions

THREE-TIME WINNER

PETALUMA - Helping seniors live confidently and age gracefully in their own homes is the mission of Sequoia Senior Solutions, according to Gabriella Ambrosi and Stan Lawson, owners of a 6-year-old home health and daily living assistance firm based in Petaluma with 101 employees.

Sequoia did not cut wages or initiate layoffs.  On the contrary, the firm continued to support its caregivers with a variety of added incentives – a referral bonus plan, paid training, refresher courses for CPR/first aid, a mentoring program and a caregiver support group if help is needed in performing specific tasks.

Mileage reimbursement is offered for caregivers who drive clients, and spot bonuses are granted for work well done.

One employee said, “Staff members really care about each another and about what happens to the older generation. Many times you’ll find kids around the office while parents finish up with daily business. Caregivers have a positive and joyful attitude, always offering to assist with workloads.”

Sonic.net Inc.

SANTA ROSA - Sonic.net has not cut back during the slowdown but has launched products, grown its staff and expanded its customer base under the leadership of Dane Jasper, who founded this Internet and telecom services provider in 1994.

“Customers are hungry for more bandwidth along with reduced costs. Our goal is to serve customers well by treating them well, and that starts with treating staff well,” according to the company application.

The firm supports staff development. Sonic.net’s culture is relaxed, and flex scheduling is offered to many of the firm’s 88 employees.

“This company started in a garage and has kept its start-up energy,” an employee said. “What other employer provides a popcorn machine, a gym and a video arcade game for employees on top of its own fashion line?”

Sonic.net supports a number of charitable organizations and provides free Web hosting for nonprofits.

Sonoma Bank

THREE-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - Taking care of customers and making sure that employees get the training and support they need are top priorities at Sonoma Bank.

“Sonoma National Bank, now Sonoma Bank, was acquired on Feb. 28, 2007, by Sterling Savings Bank, headquartered in Spokane, Wash.,” said Debbie Meekins, executive vice president and retail banking director. “There were several factors making this a great business combination. Primarily, both cultures were very similar, and leadership cares very deeply for its employees, customers and shareholders. This has been a true test of the strength of our company and the tenacity of Sonoma employees.”

An employee said, “Our company’s motto is ‘Hometown Helpful,’ and I don’t think our bank would have made it to where we are if we didn’t strive to fulfill that slogan everyday. It’s a great company that aligns with your own personal core values.  We put our money where our mouth is by serving our community and customers,” an employee said.

The company supports the United Way, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, the American Heart Association, Memorial Hospital, SRJC Foundation, the Sonoma County Family YMCA and the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

Sonoma Technology Inc.

THREE-TIME WINNER

PETALUMA - The air quality research and consulting industry is alive and well these days with new emphasis on reducing greenhouse gases and minimizing the carbon footprint, but firms like Sonoma Technology are still keeping their eyes on the bottom line.

The firm is doing well and broadening its client base while also focusing on quality and how it can continue to improve communication at every level.

Sonoma Technology and President Lyle Chinken “walk-the-talk” when it comes to advocating the need for air quality by emphasizing outdoor activities for its 56 employees, such as bike-to-work day, volleyball, an asthma walk, Breathe Easy Ride as well as summer picnics and holiday events.

Other employee incentives at this 27-year-old and three-time Best Places to Work firm include profit sharing, discretionary bonuses, recruitment referral bonuses, anniversary awards and tuition reimbursement.

ThermaSource Inc.

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - As a growing geothermal drilling company, ThermaSource, with 45 local employees, is a bright spot in the nation’s plan for recovery, helping to provide clean, base load renewable energy, according to information provided in the company application.

ThermaSource has grown from five staff members to a nationwide company with hundreds of employees in less than two years. Led by CEO Louis Capuano Jr., ThermaSource has a very family-friendly and supportive management team doing everything it can to lead the firm through these tough economic times.

An employee said, “We’re all proud to work for this company. They promised not to lay anyone off during the holidays, even when we didn’t have enough work for the field drillers.”

ThermaSource, a two-time Best Places to Work winner, sponsors youth baseball and soccer teams. Managers are active Rotarians, on the board of the Valley of the Moon Children’s Center, involved with Windsor Youth Football and are members of the chamber of commerce.

Total Concepts

SANTA ROSA - While Total Concepts builds new homes and remodels existing dwellings for clients, the company also deploys the talents of its 20 employees when the nonprofit sector and disaster victims need its help.

Total Concepts, headed by owner John Rechin, did an extensive tenant improvement project for the Jewish Community Free Clinic and twice sent its crews with some of its partners to Mississippi to help rebuild homes after Katrina.

“Our firm was also involved in the Bridge Project, a home for people on their journey to a clean life free from alcohol and drug dependence that was in desperate need of repair,” an employee said.

While Total Concepts had to implement several cost-cutting measures and temporarily suspended its profit-sharing match, vacation accruals were reinstated in early July.

“When I tell people about some of the things our owners have done and their sacrifices for employees, people are usually very surprised,” another employee commented.

Valley Tire and Brake

FOUR-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - Since 1968 Valley Tire and Brake has delivered quality automotive repair service that keeps its customers happy.

Today, with 39 employees averaging 10 years of service, the four-time Best Places to Work winner continues to maintain high standards and its core clients, who consistently return for repeat business in good times and bad.

“It’s a place where people really enjoy going to work everyday and coming together to achieve common goals,” an employee said.

President John McGill III takes care of staff, reflected in the trusted relationships Valley Tire and Brake has built with them and its customers over the years.

The company supports team-building and sports activities at summer staff softball games and bowling parties. The firm contributes to local high school athletic departments, Little League, Boys and Girls clubs and Project Grad.

“In this economy, we have held strong and true to the values that have built this business by providing honest, timely and accurate service,” another employee added.

Vantreo Insurance Brokerage

TWO-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - With financial results that place the firm within the top 25th percentile of the insurance industry, Vantreo has hit the ground running in the brief two years since its inception despite the slowdown in many parts of the economy.

Half of the company’s 26 employees are actively involved with 41 civic and community nonprofit organizations. Others volunteer with a variety of youth, faith-based, senior, musical, educational, sports and charitable groups.

“Our company is focused on people and their needs and staffed by individuals who want to give back to the community,” said Chief Operating Officer Steve Farmiloe, who, along with Lynne Wallace and Tim Charter, is a co-owner of the brokerage. “We treat everyone with respect, and we openly share our financial plan and results with employees.”

About 60 percent of upper management at Vantreo is comprised of women and minorities.

W. Bradley Electric Inc.

THREE-TIME WINNER

NOVATO - “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This adage fits the profile of W. Bradley Electric as it minimizes expenditures and increases its marketing and sales efforts.

“The downturn has been difficult, but Bradley has dealt with the necessary cutbacks with grace and kindness,” an employee said.

With 175 employees, this Novato-based electrical contractor and three-time Best Places to Work winner has been coping with volatile business cycles since 1977. About 50 percent of the WBE senior management team is women and minorities.

Employees are the most important asset for President Leslie Murphy. The company believes that taking care of them when times are not as good instills loyalty and keeps a family-oriented business together.

WBE offers a package of benefits not always found in the industry, including performance bonuses, flex spending, 401(k) match, tuition reimbursement and domestic partner coverage.

The firm supports about 43 charities and nonprofit organizations.

Winzler & Kelly Consulting Engineers

THREE-TIME WINNER

SANTA ROSA - By maintaining a two-way dialogue with employees through all-hands meetings, e-mails and a monthly newsletter, Winzler & Kelly has been able to encourage employees who may be concerned about market conditions and the state of this engineering consulting firm led by President Iver Skavdal with a focus on community and environmental sustainability.

Winzler & Kelly has been conservative with its spending and instituted a company-wide wellness program emphasizing employee health and well-being while continuing fun events such as parking lot BBQs, camping and rafting trips and lunch-time potlucks.

“Our firm has invested in the professional development of all employees with programs like Leadership Winzler & Kelly, customized training symposia, through a quarterly performance management process, the development of SMART goals and through a formal mentor/protegee program,” an employee said.

Established in 1951, Winzler & Kelly has 95 employees and a benefits package that places it in the top five percent in its industry. The firm also supports a number of nonprofit organizations.

Woodruff-Sawyer & Company

NOVATO - As a recent recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan award for workplace flexibility, Woodruff-Sawyer is dedicated to enriching the lives and enhancing the security of its employees and the customers it serves.

“People have mixed feelings about the economy. WS&Co. addressed these concerns head on by telling everyone what’s going on and by asking employees to develop individual and team goals to assist our insurance firm in achieving business objectives,” an employee said.

About 95 percent of the company’s 20 employees participated in the Best Places to Work survey, giving the company a 4.79 average score out of a possible five – the third-highest rating among all winning firms.

“Our management group and chief executive Jim Settles has kept everyone informed of changes that had to be made. But I feel that our company has not changed its values or goals, even in a challenging environment,” an employee said.

WRA Inc.

SAN RAFAEL - Having a diversified client base is credited with helping San Rafael-based WRA and President Tom Fraser chart a course through troubled waters.

“The company had a stable transition plan already in place but still had to make reductions in minor benefits. I’m thankful that we were able to weather the recessionary storm by refocusing our marketing strategy, rather than by resorting to layoffs,” an employee said.

The corporate culture at WRA, an environmental consulting and landscape architecture firm, is relaxed yet productive.

Another employee added, “Each individual is treated as a highly valued component to the success of the company. If we work long hours, we can sleep in the following day. WRA has a great alternative transportation program that encourages the use of public transit, biking or carpooling. There is also a point system where we can earn time off.”

The firm’s 43 employees have been with the 28-year-old company for an average of three to 10 years.