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Welcome to the Business Journal’s fifth Best Places to Work in the North Bay.

The 55 companies selected this year and featured on these pages 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 15 new winners, eight truly exceptional companies out of 24 winners at the start of the awards in 2006 have returned as honorees for a fifth consecutive year. The five-year winners are highlighted in this section with photos from their companies.

The winners, representing a broad range of industries, including banking, engineering, technology, health care, insurance, accounting, consulting, entertainment, food manufacturing, automotive, landscaping and building, were feted at an awards reception Thursday 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 businesses. Many of the employee responses to the question in 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

How the winners were chosen

Companies selected as Best Places to Work in the North Bay were analyzed by the editorial staff of the Business Journal on the basis of several criteria, including the employer application, the survey ratings by employees, the number of responses, size of the company, the breakdown of responses from management and non-management as well as written comments by employees.

In all, 99 companies were nominated, from which 55 winners emerged from Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.

Winners and are grouped by size so that employee scores are comparable. The winners are then listed within their size categories by employee score.

Nominations for Best Places to Work in the North Bay were sought starting in April. Anyone within a company can nominate their business by completing a simple form. A minimum of 20 employees was required.

Nominated companies were then contacted by the Business Journal and invited to submit a company application and to ask employees to complete a brief online survey.

The survey was set up through Zoomerang, a widely used online polling service. Companies had four weeks June to complete the application and survey, for which a minimum number of responses was required, depending on company size.

After an analysis of the employer application and online responses, the winners were selected and announced Aug. 3.

Best Places to Work --- Employee Survey

Employees in the 2010 Best Places to Work survey were asked the following questions in an anonymous online survey.

Please rate the following statements on a scale of 1-5

1 = Never -- Strongly disagree                                                4 = Frequently -- Agree

2 = Sometimes -- Disagree                                                    5 = Always -- Strongly agree

3 = Regularly -- I neither agree nor disagree

Credibility

Management keeps me informed about important issues and changes.

Actions are taken consistent with the vision and promises of the company.

Communications are open and accessible and suggestions are taken seriously.

Respect

Management involves people in decisions that affect their jobs or work environment.

I am offered training and development to further myself professionally.

Individuals' differences and personal lives are acknowledged and respected.

I understand the company's plans for future success.

Fairness

There is a fair system for hiring, promotions and assignment of projects.

Employees are rewarded equally for their work.

My pay rate and benefits compensation are fair for my position in my industry.

A process exists for complaints/suggestions to be addressed without retaliation.

Pride

I take pride in my individual contribution to the company.

I take pride in the work produced by my team/work group.

I take pride in my company's products/services and standing in the community.

The workplace culture encourages innovation and contribution.

I would like to be working at this organization one year from today.

Camaraderie

I feel I am able to be myself at work.

There is a socially friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the office.

My immediate coworkers consistently go the extra mile to achieve great results.

I experience a sense of "family" or "team" with my co-workers.

Additional questions:

What makes your company great?

What could be done to improve the workplace at your company?

How has your company dealt with the challenging business environment?