Welcome to the Business Journal’s seventh Best Places to Work in the North Bay. This was a year of firsts.A year of milestones; how the winners were chosen; facts and figures of winners over the yearsBest Places to Work 2012 winner profiles20--50 employees51--100 employees101--250 employees251--500 employees501--1,000 employees1,001-plus employees

It was a year with a record number of winners, 73. It was a year when a record 6,400 employees participated in the anonymous online work satisfaction survey. And for the first time, a Solano County company was selected, NorthBay Healthcare.

The 73 winners 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 these challenging and fast-changing times.

We are especially pleased to welcome an impressive group of 12 new winners. And eight truly exceptional companies out of 24 winners at the start of the awards in 2006 have returned as honorees for a seventh consecutive 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, were feted at an awards reception earlier this month.

People frequently ask how organizations are selected as among the Best Places to Work in the North Bay. The simple answer is that their employees choose them.

When a company is a great place to work it comes through loud and clear on the employee measurements of the organization’s credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. We also ask for written responses to what makes your company great and how it could improve. Every survey is reviewed and re-reviewed.

For many companies, the Best Places to Work competition has become an annual measurement of where their organization stands with employees, what they are doing right and areas for improvement. Many companies use the recognition to build morale, improve retention and to attract talent who want to be part of a great place to work.

Yes, we have grown from 24 winners in 2006 to 73 in 2012. But it is not because we have made it any easier. In fact, the average company score over those seven years to date has varied by just about one-10th of one point. We haven’t made it any easier. Rather, our recipients -- both newcomers and repeat winners -- have stepped up and met the challenge.

Once again, congratulations to our winners. They have shown exceptional character over a long and challenging period for business. We hope you gain insight from reading these company stories as much as we did finding and telling them.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, 73 winners emerged from Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano counties.

Winners are grouped by size so that employee scores are comparable.

Nominations for Best Places to Work in the North Bay were sought starting in March. 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 an online survey.

The survey was set up through Zoomerang, a widely used online polling service. Companies had four weeks in June and July 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. 2. Winners were honored at a reception Sept. 11.Facts and FiguresContest benchmark datesCall for nominations: March 12Deadline for nominations:  April 27Employee and company survey period: mid-June--mid-JulyWinners selected, notified: Aug. 2Winners reception: Sept. 11 20122011 20102009200820072006ParticipationOnline survey responses (approx.)6,4834,9744,8004,5005,0003,8003,400Winners73675555574324Winner geographic distributionSonoma51473639433018Marin1715131211114Napa4575322Solano1000000Size distribution20 to 503333272526211251 to 100181616121495101 to 500171611171595More than 5005211242Repeat winnersSeven-time8      Six-time107     Five-time10108nanananaFour-time7131110nananaThree-time1010111413nanaTwo-time161210131817naFirst-time12151518262624Top-scoring companies per size category20 to 50: O’Brien Watters & Davis, LLP, Santa Rosa51 to 100: Golden LivingCenter of Petaluma, Petaluma101 to 250: Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley, Napa251 to 500: Bradley Real Estate, San Rafael501 to 1,000 Wells FargoMore than 1,000: Agilent Technologies, Santa Rosa