(Editor's note: The companies with the three highest employee survey scores in their size category were invited to submit company photos to accompany their profiles.)

Winners are listed alphabetically in their size category.Accuchex Payroll Management ServicesFour-time winner

NOVATO -- Accuchex employees are encouraged to suggest ways to improve the work environment, as well as contribute to the communities the company serves.

"All of us look forward to monthly staff appreciation lunches and hearing management share client accolades and their sincere gratitude for the work we do," an employee said.

Owners James and Leslie Ruhland strive to be accessible to all of their staff.

"As hands-on managers, we consistently prove our commitment to the health and welfare of our families by respecting and supporting individual needs, as well as by fostering professionalism and personal growth through continuing education and skills training."

"There is no sense of 'behind the scenes' maneuvering at Accuchex that I've experienced almost everywhere else I've worked. Owners take part in being with others as if they are co-workers, and not the bosses. Trips to the ballpark, holiday events and the annual 'I survived January' party after tax season, along with contests and prizes, are among the many things that shape the climate at Accuchex," an employee said.

"Our employees represent a wide range of experience, educational and ethnic backgrounds. This diversity is a powerful resource," Mr. Ruhland said.Bank of NapaTwo-time winner

NAPA -- The friendly, family-oriented atmosphere makes coming to work each day a pleasure for employees at Bank of Napa.

"The people at the bank are the best. We take our jobs seriously, but have fun while performing the expectations of our clients. Management truly cares about every employee. The staff supports each other whenever needed, and are very creative. Responsiveness is number one," one employee noted.

Another said: "Individuals are praised at staff meetings. ... We all are striving to achieve the same goals and receive helpful feedback on how we're doing," an employee said.

Two things set Bank of Napa apart from other organizations, according to Tom LeMasters, president and CEO.

"The first is the relentless focus every employee has on the bank, from customer service to improving our financial performance. The second is the team approach we use to make decisions. We rely on the collective experience of our team to arrive at decisions that are good for our customers and shareholders -- and ultimately for employees themselves."

Employees are active in Napa Valley Kiwanis and Rotary International Clubs along with many other youth related organizations.BKF -- Carlenzoli & AssociatesFirst-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- The rule of thumb at BFK/Carlenzoli during a tough economy is to focus on the positives.

Despite the recession, the company has been able to attract great projects while still being able to provide benefits and perks for employees.

"We do everything we can to make our employees comfortable and enhance their family life so they can focus on helping our clients," said principal and vice president Greg Hurd.

"BKF's work environment is entrepreneurial, fast-paced and friendly. We work hard to meet our clients' needs and have fun doing it. We also host and/or sponsor many social activities, including volunteer opportunities, basketball, softball and bowling teams, golf tournaments, mountain biking groups and the annual company picnic and holiday party," an employee said.

The emphasis at BFK/Carlenzoli is on supporting employee wellbeing.

"We have a gym membership reimbursement program, free fruit day, free bagels once a week, free soft drinks, diet drinks, coffee, tea and oatmeal along with paid engineering association license fees and dues. We also have access to a condo at Lake Tahoe," "Our managers look internally before hiring outside," another employee said.Burr Pilger Mayer, Inc.Six-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- BPM is celebrating 25 years in business. Today it is the fifth largest, full service accounting, tax, wealth management and consulting firm in Northern California with over 400 employees, 55 partners and six offices throughout the Bay Area.

Last year the firm prepared over 8,000 tax returns and participated in excess of 575 audits, reviews or compilations of financial statements. Company employees represent 30 different countries and speak 21 languages.

"We're not just a group of boring CPAs, we are fun, motivated people," according to an employee. "We have a 'we are here to help' culture that is very powerful, and leads to a lot of pride and satisfaction in the workplace. There is a mutual understanding between the firm's management and the employees that the success of the firm as a whole is dependent upon the individual success of all the employees."

In the middle of tax season, BPM invites employees, clients, family and friends to take a break at an Irish Coffee Gala. On the first Friday night home game of the Giants baseball season, BPM hosts a fundraiser for families and clients that has raised $750,000 for local charities over the years. This is followed by an Octoberfest event in the fall.

BPM also has a Commissioner of Fun. "With so many smiling faces, it's no wonder we deliver such dynamic service."

The company is committed to improving the community. Each year BPM staffers lead "Because People Matter" Day. The entire firm volunteers at two non-profits in each office region to help clean, paint and maintain facilities, restore habitat, build sets for a community theater or help out at a local food bank.

In 1990, the company formed the BPM foundation that has contributed more than $1 million to over 100 organizations since its inception.Cardno ERIFour-time winner

PETALUMA -- Employees believe the greatest contributor to success at Cardno ERI is their commitment to each other and their clients.

The environmental consulting company is increasing its sales team and marketing efforts as its clients change their business models in today's economy.

The merger of Cardno with three-time winner Environmental Resolutions, Inc. has bolstered the firm's portfolio with expanded services, along and its ability to provide staff assistance throughout the U.S. as regional fast track projects come on line.

 "This past year has provided our associates with career growth opportunities in fields related to our core business as well as the development of new marketable skill sets," said Keith Romstad, division manager. "We have a culture of teamwork and safety and take pride in the fact that a job well done remains the bedrock of our success."

"My coworkers are fantastic. I truly feel like I'm a part of not only the team but a family when I step into the office every day. Management has created an environment where I feel that I can express opinions, make suggestions, and share my ideas, no matter how seemingly tiny or 'big picture' they may be," an employee said.

Another employee commented: "Flexibility is key. As a full time working mom, there are times when I have to be out of the office during working hours. At the end of the day all that matters is that the job is done!"

Carlile MacyFive-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- With a shared sense of family and team that is optimistic and successful, engineering firm Carlile Macy has a reputation among employees for its continuous and open communications that includes keeping everyone informed about projects, financials and the company's vision.

"When I was hired, they asked me, 'What do you need from us to make your employment successful?' I answered: 'Honesty, strong values and work ethics, and to be in a respected environment.' They responded, 'That's no problem.' I continue to be impressed with the company, employees and the leadership," an employee said.

"In a service organization, it's all about our wonderful staff, which is our greatest asset. We hire the best and nurture their careers," said Dave Hanson, president. "We value our employees and appreciate their loyalty and dedication. They make this company the greatest place to work."

"Our team is creative and inquisitive and always ready to explore new possibilities. We feel we have the freedom to do this and make recommendations that can enhance the organization," another employee said.Codding EnterprisesTwo-time winner

ROHNERT PARK -- "Codding is a family company. We strive to create an environment that is professional, yet comfortable, innovative and invigorating as well as reliable and trusting, with a goal of creating a fun place to spend each workday," said Brad Baker, chairman and CEO of the company behind the development of the path-breaking Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park.

"The overall office environment is fantastic. The aesthetics are warm, inviting and comfortable, with a sense of family and friendliness, and -- at the same time -- very professional," an employee said.

To engage employees, retain them and boost morale, an Employee Engagement Program was created and led by volunteers who organize celebrations, recognition and other events on behalf of the staff during work and after hours.

This program includes bring-your-child-to-work day, a company picnic, a holiday party, monthly potluck luncheons, casual dress Friday's, noon hour organized workout sessions and roundtable discussions on health topics with physicians -- along with a bring-your-dog-to-work day.

 "Our company is a very upbeat and happy place to work. We have a great team and a solid, long-standing company and management team that is willing to step out and try new things to keep up with the times. We all have an opportunity to be involved with building and shaping our community," an employee said.Dal Poggetto & Company LLPFive-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Employees have an enjoyable working environment at the accounting firm Dal Poggetto & Co., based on a pervasive company climate that encourages initiative, innovation and one that rewards working collaboratively.

"Our firm is coping with the economic situation by investing in training, technology and industry best practices in order to maximize efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness," an employee said.

"All of us, staff and management alike, take a genuine interest in our clients, understand their needs and objectives and exceed their expectations when it comes to service," said Jon Dal Poggetto, managing partner.

"Dal Poggetto is run by partners that truly understand the importance of family life and work/life balance. Everyone takes great pride in their work and our relationships with clients," an employee said.

At the end of the day, the reputation of any firm is critical to its success and the longevity of its employees. At Dal Poggetto & Co., the average worker has been with the firm for more than half of its 18-year history.

"We believe we are the accounting firm with the best reputation on campus among accounting students at Sonoma State University -- as well as among our existing clients and employees," Mr. Poggetto said.Frank Howard Allen RealtorsTwo-time winner

NOVATO -- Being part of a close-knit team is one thing, but feeling as though you are part of a family is even better -- so say employees at Frank Howard Allen, a real estate brokerage where workers average over 12 years of service.

"The owners are wonderful. They have the foresight to hire talented people who love the adventure of technology and stretch the bar. There is great pride here," an employee said.

The company has been keeping a sharp eye on expenses during the real estate slump, according to Noreen Smith, president and COO, while continuing to offer its 40 employees a comprehensive and flexible benefits package with extras that include personal days, tuition assistance, leaves of absence and an employee volunteer program.

Frank Howard Allen has stayed extremely positive in the face of a difficult economy. "The company has been very smart about cutting expenses without cutting staff. I really respect this," an employee said.

The firm makes an effort to improve morale by consistently expressing its appreciation, hosting holiday parties and seasonal luncheons and by celebrating special occasions.

The company and its employees have donated over $1 million to charities during the last 10 years.

Friedemann Goldberg LLPFirst-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- When you come to work at the law firm Friedemann Goldberg, you are not just another staff member, you feel like you belong there, in the words of one employee.

"Management appreciates you, not only financially, but verbally. They are extremely generous," according to an employee.

John Friedemann, managing partner, says: "what makes our company great is its people. We are in the service business and it's all about the people with the right attitude. Our philosophy is that a job well done is always rewarded."

"Employees are hard-working team players who produce high quality work. Management is very fair and acknowledges and rewards our work. There is a tremendous 'give back' from the management to the staff -- many perks and fun events. Everyone here has a great sense of humor and continually strives to achieve the best," an employee said.

To sustain morale the company continues to provide birthday luncheons, summertime and holiday parties. The firm also pays certain educational expenses.

"We care about our people and the partners are not afraid of manning the barbecue or singing a Backstreet Boys number at the karaoke holiday party. When you really care about your workplace family, the rest flows naturally," Mr. Friedemann said.Ghilotti Brothers, Inc.Two-time winner

SAN RAFAEL -- With a 97-year legacy as a general engineering contractor, Ghilotti Bros., Inc. is one of the leading construction companies in the Bay Area.

 Employees say managers are receptive to new ideas and encourage innovation. Everyone contributes, from top management to workers in the field. "We all have direct access and communication with the owner and all upper management."

 "We strive to establish a culture of continuous improvement coupled with internal and external partnering," said Michael Ghilotti, president. "Our goal is personal and professional excellence through a major investment in GBI's human capital."

 Three primary principles laid down by founder James Ghilotti have guided the firm -- earning respect by doing a job well, treating employees with courtesy and respect, and doing good work for the community.

President "Mike Ghilotti is the driving force within the company. He inspires us through his own actions and is always ready to hear what each of us has to say. His door is always open to us, no matter what level we are at within the company," an employee said.

 Another employee added: "Old-school work ethics, combined with the latest technology, are a great combination. The reason I wanted to work here was that I was impressed with the pride and work ethic of all involved."Ghirardo CPASix-time winner

NOVATO -- Caring, entrepreneurial, innovative and community minded are just a few of the words employees say describe the atmosphere at Ghirardo CPA.

"Caring about our clients and each other isn't just lip service, it's real," one employee said.

"While not perfect, each one of us is constantly looking for ways to improve in helping each other learn and grow," said Jerry Ghirardo, managing partner. "Our success starts with our values and our vision. Receiving feedback from team members is essential."

 "The company strives to do the best for its clients, and goes the extra mile in providing a safe place for us to work, Managers encourage and assist us with our personal growth on a regular basis," an employee said.

At Ghirardo CPA employees enjoy flexible hours, use of a Tahoe condo, gym facilities in the building and nine paid holidays, standard vacations and six personal leave days.

CPA license fees, continuing education costs and graduate-level accounting and tax courses at Golden Gate University or other accredited institutions are covered by the company. The firm also provides significant in-house training.Groskopf Warehouse & LogisticsFirst-time winner

SONOMA -- With a fresh business plan and new leadership, employees are bullish about the future at GWL.

"We have a new vice president and general manager who helped formulate a positive corporate strategy jointly with our president," said an employee.

"I get up every morning thinking what a wonderful day I'm going to have at the office. This never happened to me before. There is an aura of change, and this is a good thing, compared to where we were a year ago."

The company is growing and employees are excited about this upbeat trend, which has enabled the firm to hire additional staff and increase billable hours.

The staff strives to function as a single team under the same roof with one common goal.

"Our task is to empower our employees and create a climate where they, and our customers, are not just satisfied, but truly happy," said Guillaume Crete, president of GWL.

"The atmosphere here is one of positive energy and coworker support. I plan to work here until I retire if I am given the chance to do so," an employee said.

Heffernan Insurance BrokersFive-time winner

PETALUMA -- "In our office, dogs, children and jeans are welcome, and if an employee has a child in a musical recital, we encourage him or her to go," said senior vice president Elizabeth Bishop. "In a nutshell, we describe our culture as work hard, strive for excellence, have fun and do good things for, and in, our community."

"Focusing on caring for our people, our communities and our world gives us a wonderful sense of pride and purpose. This translates into meaningful relationships between the staff and our clients."

Heffernan employees are treated to impromptu and planned staff lunches and afternoon home-baked cake and cookie breaks. Everyone celebrates birthdays, anniversaries and new babies.

The entire 400 member staff went to the Hyatt Lake Tahoe Spa Resort and Casino for a reward weekend, an opportunity to earn donations to favorite causes, and including a reward dinner theme of "Come as Your Favorite Star."

"We give back to those who need it. Even in the past few years with pay cuts and freezes, our charitable contributions stayed the same or were increased," an employee said.

"Working at Heffernan is like a dream come true for me. I like a challenging work environment where results are expected, but I also like the fact that you are given guidance, support and a reasonable amount of time to achieve goals," another staff member said.Inn Marin & Rickey'sFour-time winner

NOVATO -- To avoid layoffs in difficult times, owners John and Robert Marshall cut hours and reduced pay across the board to keep their Inn Marin & Rickey's workforce intact.

"We appreciate each other's work and contribution for everything we do. We would do anything to protect each other and our guests," one worker said.

 "When customers are the most important part of your business, and everyone who works with you understands that completely, then success is inevitable."

As business improves, every time the inn is sold out employees receive a free lunch.

 "Our goal is to provide the friendliest service possible and make our inn a home away from home for our guests," Robert Marshall said.

At Inn Marin & Rickey's, family comes first. Employees receive time off when needed as well as sick pay and a benefits package that pays 75 percent of medical and dental costs. The staff also receives tickets to major races at Infineon Raceway, tickets to Six Flags and overnight stays at other hotels.

"We cut costs as much as possible, and we are constantly looking for new business. We go the extra mile to provide service, comfort and value to our guests. Our attention to detail and warmth of our welcome insure our guests return time and again," an employee said.Innovative Business Solutions, Inc.Two-time winner

[caption id="attachment_41024" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The staff of Innovative Business Solutions celebrate their Best Places to Work award with cake."][/caption]

ROHNERT PARK -- IBS embraces a supportive, teamwork approach with projects and workloads. A third of the staff has been with the business services firm over 10 years, with average employee tenure of almost eight years.

"We care about our employees and offer them a chance to compete through an opportunity-based promotion policy based purely on merit," said David Tieken, CEO. The company received the highest employee survey score in the 20 to 50 employee category of 4.86.

"When engaging a new client, we like to undersell our capabilities and over-deliver on service. First-time clients are never really prepared for how fantastic our staff is!"

An employee said: "This is the healthiest and best work environment I have worked in. Everyone is treated equally. IBS is progressive and never compromising when it comes to ensuring that employees are not overstressed and clients are not adversely affected by management decisions."

IBS implemented employer-sponsored Health Savings Accounts to reduce medical premiums, and has moved toward web-based applications to reduce file server and IT resource investments as a way to help sustain the company during challenging times.

"We give back to the community by participating in the Santa Rosa Chamber's WHEEL program and the annual Redwood Empire Food Bank holiday food drive."

"The knowledge that everyone plays a vital role in the success of the business instills a sense of pride in all employees," a staff member said.Ledcor Construction Inc.First-time winner

NAPA -- Every year Ledcor surveys its employees to measure engagement, morale as well as organizational effectiveness. Managers analyze this feedback and create action plans to improve the work environment.

"I like the ability to work hours that allow us to coach sports and or do community work. The freedom to be able to leave and take care of personal issues, help with my kids when need be without being scrutinized or punished is welcome," an employee said.

In employee surveys, 100 percent said they would recommend Ledcor as an employer to their friends.

"It's important for us to maintain strong employee relationships -- both inside and outside the workplace," said David James, vice president of the U.S. Mainland Building Group.

"One way we do this is by offering free gym memberships to help reinforce our solid family and team-oriented culture. We found that our staff voluntarily choose to workout together at the same location."

The company takes a collaborative, partnering approach with employees as well as customers and suppliers," a staff member said. "Our managers live by family values and the firm's guiding principles, including: safety, quality, integrity, sustainability and success."

Marizco Landscape Management Inc.Four-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- From management to the front line, everyone at Marizco appreciates being asked how the company can set itself apart from its competition. It's all about total involvement, top down and bottom up.

"I truly believe our employees are the main reason for our success," said owner Pierre Marizco. "If you keep employees engaged and motivated, everything else falls into place because they care."

"Our company slogan is 'Greening Your World,' and we do our best to do the same for our people with surprise bonuses when possible and other incentives."

There is an annual Employee Appreciation picnic for all staff and their families, barbecues throughout the year, golf days, along with company issued uniforms and vehicles.

"We care about each other and what we do. Everyone works very hard and do our best to provide for our families and the company. What's great because is Marizco has a commuter van and pays for all transportation costs," an employee said.

Employees volunteer to provide landscaping services for The Children's Village of Sonoma County, and for the beautification of median islands for the city of Santa Rosa, as well as participate in fundraisers for the Farm Bureau and Boys & Girls Clubs.Metier, Ltd.First-time winner

[caption id="attachment_41025" align="alignleft" width="350" caption="The staff of Metier, a project management software that is new to Santa Rosa and is a first-time winner of Best Places to Work.The company had 100 percent participation and tied for first place in its size category with an employee survey score of 4.86."][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Portfolio management firm Metier is a growing enterprise whose "staff is comprised of the best and brightest talent and our firm provides a workplace with a vibrant, energetic atmosphere to inspire them," noted one employee. "Our culture is amazing."

Metier accomplishes this with "excessive" celebrations for all victories, including train whistles for new sales, cowbells for new hire announcements, and a "talking penguin" to tout new product releases.

"Metier sets itself apart by incorporating its "Workforward" concept into everything we do. For us, this concept shifts the focus from past to future performance in a results-oriented work environment. It allows Metier to hire the best and brightest and provide challenges that create industry-leading project portfolio management (PPM) solutions," an employee said.

There are constant communications on progress toward shared and departmental goals through the firm's newsletter and Stand Up meetings.

"We encourage involvement of the entire staff for important corporate and sales initiatives and welcome new ideas -- such as company cheese tastings. Employee acts of excellence are honored in front of all staff members," said Douglas Clark, CEO.Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Sonoma CountyFour-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Mr. Rooter is a company that understands that everyone is experiencing difficult times. "We've cut back on the extras to keep our team gainfully employed," said co-owner Saunda Kitchen.

"Our team works tirelessly to promote and support a phenomenal culture of gratitude for both internal and external customers."

According to one plumbing associate, the culture can also be described as animated, fun, dynamic, caring, supportive and family. "Our teammates lookout for each other and offer a 'wing to our fellow wingmen' when needed."

 Associates decided a while back that, given economic conditions, the time was right to form internal committees charged with finding ways to give back to the local community.

"We all recognized how humbling it is to give to others in need," Ms. Kitchen said.

Mr. Rooter's associates donate their time, in-kind services and also collect food and toys. These activities help support The Children's Village, Toys for Tots, IFA, Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Mr. Rooter Zees for Zees Fund -- which provides money for fellow plumbing associates to attend conferences and meetings, such as the International Franchise Association.

"I haven't been working here long, however, I already feel as if I am part of an amazing family and a career-oriented firm with a solid code of values," an associate said.O'Brien Watters & Davis, LLPThree-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Approaching its third decade in business, one employee put it simply about this law firm: "I feel at home here. When my friends ask me what I love about my job, I just can't stop talking about the people I work with. I couldn't ask for a better position."

"Our people make our firm what it is," said John R. O'Brien, partner. "Their professionalism, knowledge, commitment, teamwork, integrity and accountability for results are the hallmarks of our firm."

Another staff member noted: "The passion involved in our work and dedication to our clients make me very proud to be a part of this amazing group of people. We all get together often on the first Friday of the month, either at the homes of staff or attorneys."

 While the work is demanding and fast paced, mutual support and respect for one another give employees the confidence and will to succeed.

"A business does not survive for over a quarter century without ups and downs, triumphs and failures. It is by and through those experiences that we are able to stand and face a trying economy," an employee observed.Optio Solutions, LLCTwo-time winner

ROHNERT PARK --"True fulfillment for me comes from doing something that genuinely makes a difference in the lives of our clients. We help businesses stay in business. Our services help keep people employed," said an employee.

"We provide customized workflow strategies and accounts receivable management solutions that make businesses more effective and efficient at managing their receivables," said Chris Schumacher, president and CEO.

"So much of the news these days is bad, we're proud to be an innovative company that's helping return over $40 billion a year back into the economy." 

In the words of another employee, "Our core values are more to us than fancy words on our website. We believe we can navigate the toughest business environment by providing unparalleled customer satisfaction.

The company has more employees now than last year, but still explores cross-training and job-sharing options before it hires.

"We have not laid anyone off and will continue to work hard to make sure that does not happen. We share monthly collections and sales revenue figures with our staff, which gives them skin in the game," Mr. Schumacher said. "We feel strongly that morale is increased by working as a team."

Play-Well TEKnologiesFirst-time winner

SAN ANSELMO -- This fast-growing, privately owned company teaches critical thinking skills to students through engineering.

 "The children's faces after a class or camp are so excited and you feel you have made their lives better, an employee said. "We also emphasize use of these skills in our work projects and welcome innovation."

President Timothy Bowen said, "We actively encourage our staff to think creatively to solve problems and develop new programs. This helps us stay fresh and competitive in our market and actively engages our employees."

 Play-Well is all about providing quality programs to students and sharing the company's love of learning to inspire future generations of problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

 When someone asked a staff member what he does, he said: "I play with LEGOs for a living. How awesome is that. I've never worked for an organization that affords me so much autonomy and freedom to do my job."

"Sure, we've taken risks, and had some colossal failures, but we've also had outstanding successes, too. We have a staff driven by fun and passion."Private Ocean Wealth ManagementFirst-time winner

SAN RAFAEL -- At Private Ocean, everyone is encouraged to participate and contribute, and the leadership does its best to ensure that everyone stays informed.

"We work hard while also laughing a lot. It's great because I can truly be myself in a relaxed, employee-friendly work atmosphere. I feel like the company really cares about me and my family," an employee said. "It's a great work environment with lots of autonomy."

"Ours is a culture that supports education, inspires collaboration, camaraderie, and a good sense of humor," said CEO Richard Stone.

"Private Ocean is great because it is comprised of an exceptional group of dedicated professionals committed to our clients, the firm and each other."

In 2010, the firm reinstated its bonus program. Two planning retreats, annual company outings and monthly all staff meetings -- with lunch provided -- help reinforce and build strong relationships between leadership and staff.

On occasion, the team takes off for a Friday afternoon movie. The office closes at 3 p.m. every other Friday during the summer to give everyone a chance to get a head start on the weekend. This year the firm is hosting a family weekend on the Russian River.

"Often the closest families are the ones that face their individual challenges together. At Private Ocean, that's what we do, and our family bond has never been stronger," a staff member said.Quattrocchi Kwok ArchitectsFour-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- As this local architectural design firm celebrates its 25th anniversary, company executives Mark Quattrocchi and Steve Kwok recognized that QKA's success is inexorably linked to its staff, both past and present.

 "QKA's reputation for quality design and client-centered service is a testament to the talented people who make up the firm," Mr. Kwok said.

Employees credit their leadership. "The personalities and values of the partners is what makes our company great. They are very approachable. They listen and respond appropriately."

"The workplace is collegial and supportive. Enthusiasm starts at the top and permeates down. The owners have never worked longer or harder to get new business and keep us employed."

"Management anticipated that hard days were ahead and built up healthy savings, while trimming excess spending. They modified the marketing strategy to help smaller clients see that their business would be valued just as much as the big clients. This really paid off," an employee said.

The staff looks for inexpensive ways to have fun. A Sketch Club meets regularly and contests are held with modest prizes -- all intended to stimulate a lively culture and close interaction.

When asked what else could be done to improve the company, employees said: "More space! We are growing -- a nice problem to have these days!"

Schurter, Inc.Five-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Schurter takes its hiring process very seriously and looks for people that will enhance group dynamics.

"We all feel valued and know that the company takes our well-being, and the well-being of our families, to heart," an employee said.

In anticipation of slower times, Schurter reduced staff through attrition, cut spending on supplies, equipment, and services, reduced waste and instituted a smart procurement system for goods and services, while also increasing energy efficiency.

Sales in 2011 continue to be strong into the second half of the year.

"Our company was founded in Switzerland in 1933 and has grown globally to employ over 1,600 people," said Bruno Shurter, president and CEO.

"The firm is still family owned and combines highly professional business ethics with care for our employees and the community. Our culture is one of openness and transparency and is also financially and socially responsible."

When asked what could be done to improve the workplace, one employee said: "Clone Bruno."Smith Dollar, PCTwo-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- "We are fortunate to be a rapidly growing law firm and our attorneys and staff are working as a team to navigate those waters smoothly," an employee said.

"Simply put, we have an amazing group of people and hire and employ the most qualified, dedicated, enthusiastic, skilled and personable individuals available in the North Bay," according to president Rachel M. Dollar.

"Every person has a vested interest in providing the highest quality services to our clients. Employees jump in and pull together even before help is requested and do their work as a matter of pride."

Employees like being able to adjust their hours. "Smith Dollar offers flex time, which allows me to spend more time with my family during the summer. They also, provide a fully stocked kitchen where I can have a complimentary breakfast, lunch and snacks at no cost every day."

The company supports team building with an annual retreat, a holiday party and last year held a dinner at the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club where each employee received an award (most creative, most likely to be a politician, etc.).

"This is truly the best place I have ever worked and I plan on staying here for the remainder of my career. Smith Dollar has a group of smart, kind and helpful attorneys and staff," an employee added.Summit EngineeringFive-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- At Summit Engineering, regularly scheduled staff meetings give everyone a chance to discuss the state of the company, upcoming projects, leads and opportunities.

 "We encourage a positive atmosphere by also continuing to provide a weekly breakfast and monthly fun event," said president Greg Swaffar.

"We demonstrate our commitment to the well being of our staff, community and our clients daily by being a certified Sonoma County Green Company."

Summit Engineering's staff also creates camaraderie through mutual interests, respect, the work it does and a lot of enthusiasm. This year the company has been fortunate to experience growth in employee numbers.

"We are offered opportunities to work on exciting projects, develop professionally, and work in teams with vibrant motivated people," according to a staff member.

Another employee said: Summit "has become my home away from home. The company provides a free breakfast the last workday of the week, hosts monthly 'wine-down' gatherings for all staff, and sponsors quarterly fun committee events that include bowling, office Olympics, golf, horse shoes and other activities."TLCD ArchitectureFirst-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Teamwork, the sharing of ideas and information take precedence at TLCD. The company believes its contributions to the profession and to the community are paramount to its success.

"TLCD is a highly collaborative organization," said Alan Butler, senior principal, and one of nine partners in a firm that has a total of 43 employees in the North Bay.

"We encourage both collaboration and innovation in design competitions and look for opportunities to incorporate each individual's passions and interests into the firm's work."

An employee said, "Ideas and expressions are heard and valued, regardless of 'position.' Each employee is considered to be a contributor. Initiative is rewarded and new ideas are thoughtfully considered and often implemented."

TLCD has diversified its scope of work to include new clients with an increased focus on adaptive-reuse projects.

For example, the firm is designing the Museum on the Square in Santa Rosa that will transform a vacant telephone switching building into a 10-story mixed-use center. Next door, the former Traverso's building will become Luther Burbank Savings' new headquarters branch.

"A combination of innovative thinking by creative individuals and an open, flexible workplace create an office environment that encourages people to be their best self," a staff member said.

Valley Tire & BrakeSix-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- High quality customer service is the common objective at Valley Tire & Brake, a company with 43 years of experience in keeping local residents safe on the road.

"We all strive to get the job done right the first time. Everyone here has a great attitude -- to exceed customer expectations," an employee said.

"We have a solid base of loyal customers, even in a tight economy, who give us repeat business. Our sales were down, but they have been steadily improving and now they're even better than the general economy."

"Our employees are what makes us great," said owner John R. McGill III. "The best people always make the best companies. My philosophy is to always hire the best and give them the tools to be successful."

Employees welcome the frequent barbecues and on-site catered luncheons as well as company sponsored softball and bowling.

 The company also supports all local high school athletic departments, volunteer firefighters and Little League.

"By keeping quality and excellent service as our top priorities, we stand out as a well respected shop that does things right at a fair price," an employee said.Vantreo Insurance BrokerageFour-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Vantreo planned in advance to take a series of steps in as management saw a slower economy on the horizon.

"With our commitment to technology. we were able to restructure jobs to eliminate the need for layoffs," said president Lynne Wallace. "Having an open book policy with clear goals also helped to convey our commitment to employees."

One employee said: "Going paperless and having the latest technology has also helped us grow and be more green."

Vantreo's top priority is to help others reach their goals, including its team members, clients and the insurance companies it represents.

"The axiom that there is 'wisdom in the counsel of many' is a company reality we witness every day as we see how our owners listen -- with genuine interest -- to ideas presented by any member of the team. Independent thinking is not only encouraged and rewarded, it is implemented," an employee said.

Willingness to foster and incorporate the best ideas enables Vantreo to continually innovate and improve.

"It's a huge competitive advantage, and helps ensure that our company remains the employer of choice in our industry," another employee commented.Westminster WoodsFirst-time winner

OCCIDENTAL -- Enabling employees to realize their full potential -- as they contribute to the success of this camp and conference center -- is part of the culture at Westminster Woods.

"We are implementing Holacracy, an approach which allows our organization to dynamically steer our actions along a defined and evolving business strategy"," said Sheila Denton, executive director. "We share a beautiful space in the Redwoods and with each other."

At The Woods, employees are able to bring their deepest passions to work, whether it be concern for the environment, faith development, education, hospitality or cooking a great, healthy and tasty meal.

"We all know at a deep level that we are here to serve the schools, the students, the guests, and the campers. Everyone that comes to The Woods has life-changing and transformational experiences," an employee said.

The staff participates in hikes, potlucks, staff days and group relationships with other non-profit employees.

"All of us who work here are pleased to offer participants an authentic experience while providing exceptional hospitality, intentional resource stewardship, and myriad opportunities for growth for individuals and as a group," another employee said.Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.Three-time winner

NOVATO -- Communication is critical, even more so during tough times, according to Jim Settles, SVP and practice leader for North Bay benefits. "We regularly meet with our people and talk them through decisions we have made."

"The secret of our success is a simple, but effective, recipe: Team members who excel at their profession are given best-in-class resources and a team structure that promotes peer partnership, personal growth, accountability and flexibility. The net result -- happy employees and happy clients."

Employees agree. "The company allows us all to do our best work without micromanaging or putting roadblocks in our way. I'm proud to work for an organization that values employee performance and input."

CARE (Community, Action, Responsibility and Enhancement), is the company's community service arm, with a goal of channeling charitable donations and volunteer activities where they are needed, such as blood drives, shelter donations and student mentoring. The firm also has an employee donation-matching program.

"Everyone is here to help. There is not a single person that I can't go to in the office and ask questions or to get advice about clients or my career, including our CEO, who says we are free to contact him with any questions," other employees said.