Best companies to work for in Colorado '09.

Author:Cote, Mike
Position:[COVER STORY]

LARGE COMPANIES (250 employees or more)

  1. Pinnacol Assurance

  2. Edward Jones

  3. Omni Interlocken Resort

  4. PricewaterhouseCoopers

  5. Alpine Bank

  6. Cheyenne Mountain Resort

  7. Quest Diagnostics Inc.

  8. CoBank

  9. Merrick & Co.

  10. T-Mobile USA--Colorado Call Centers

  11. DaVita Inc.

  12. The Children's Hospital

  13. tw telecom

  14. CH2M Hill

  15. Hunter Douglas Window Fashions, Inc

    MEDIUM COMPANIES (100 to 249 employees)

  16. Rally Software

  17. PCL Construction Enterprises

  18. Exclusive Resorts LLC Inc.

  19. Stanley Consultants Inc

  20. Classic Residence by Hyatt--Highlands Ranch

    SMALL COMPANIES (25 to 99 employees)

  21. Infinity Systems Engineering

  22. ReadyTalk

  23. IP5280 Communications

  24. Blu SKY Restoration Contractors Inc.

  25. Memolink Inc.

  26. Evolve

  27. Moneytree Inc.

  28. Return Path Inc.

  29. Odell Brewing Co.

  30. Administaff Inc.

  31. Rothstein Kass

  32. Aztek Networks Inc.

  33. R.A. Nelson 8c Associates Inc.

  34. SAFEbuilt Inc.

  35. Sterling-Rice Group

    Pinnacol Assurance, Rally Software and Infinity Systems Engineering rate the best among 35 finalists judged for having great workplaces in the state

    In a time when workers are taking on extra duties, it's nice to know we still have companies that keep the office stocked with snacks, or in the case of one of this year's Best Companies finalists, "Scooby snacks."

    Oh, and thanks for covering employee health-care insurance premiums. That's coming in handy right now as the nation braces for what could become wholesale changes to our health-care system.

    As we face economic challenges, celebrating companies that create great workplaces couldn't be more important. The Best Company to Work For in Colorado finalists understand that keeping workers inspired and appreciated not only improves the bottom line but creates dividends that transcend it.

    For the fourth year, ColoradoBiz has joined with the Colorado State Council of the Society of Human Resource Management and, an online employment advertising service, to produce a list of the best companies to work for in the state.

    It's especially inspiring this year to hear what companies are doing to engage their workers and connect with their communities. Few companies can afford to pay 100 percent of health insurance benefit coverage for employees and their families, as Ready Talk does, or plan an all-expense paid trip to an exotic locale every year for the entire staff, a long-time tradition at Infinity Systems Engineering. But those are only the more striking examples of what makes those companies a great place to work.

    Even companies of modest means can make the grade by creating a workplace culture that champions the contributions of employees and strives to help them balance other aspects of their lives. Offering paid time off for employees who do volunteer work and matching their charitable cash contributions is one of the more common "best practices" among the companies the program honors each year. And with nonprofits strapped for support these days, continuing such programs is crucial.

    Thirty-five companies made this year's Best Companies ranking and are profiled here. The 15 largest companies have 250 or more employees. The five companies in the medium category have 100 to 249 employees. The 15 companies in the small category include those with work forces of 25 to 99 employees.

    To participate in the rankings, companies paid from $625 to $1,175 to be surveyed by Modern Think, a workplace-excellence consulting firm. All employees are surveyed in the small and medium categories. Up to 400 employees are surveyed in the large category depending on the size of the organization. If the company has more than 400 employees, the participating employees are chosen at random.


    Pinnacol Assurance

    1 Pinnacol Assurance plays a vital role in Colorado's economy, providing workers compensation insurance to more than 58,000 businesses representing 1.5 million employees across the state. More than half of all Colorado businesses are Pinnacol policyholders.

    But while Pinnacol is known as "Colorado's insurer of last resort," it is first in the eyes of judges when it comes to Best Companies to Work For. The Denver-based insurer has gone to considerable lengths to take care of its own 622 employees.

    Perks at Pinnacol include a matching 401 (k) plan, an in-house exercise room with pilates instruction and other classes, and a companywide ergonomics program to ensure optimum comfort and worker health in an environment where most work is done sitting in front of a desk.

    In that program, new employees and employees changing workstations receive an ergonomic evaluation aimed at correcting hazards like ill-fitting chairs or poor seating posture. They also have weekly access to an on-site occupational therapist to discuss any symptom, regardless of cause. A stretching program further promotes employee health.

    Of course, for a company that provides workers' compensation insurance, this sets a good example for policyholders. And vice versa.

    "What we do as a business carries forth to our employees," says Ken Ross, who is nearing his fourth year as Pinnacol's president and CEO.

    Pinnacol's history dates back to 1915, making it Colorado's oldest provider of workers' compensation insurance. The company was regularly in the news earlier this year when state legislators sought to tap $500 million of Pinnacol's $2 billion in reserves to fund higher education before a judge ruled that such a move would be illegal.


    "Pinnacol's story is about our role in the Colorado marketplace, our role in the economy," Ross says. "We went through a rough time with our legislature in the springtime. The way we look at it is we prevailed, and we think the law is very clear how Pinnacol should operate in Colorado. Because of the size of Pinnacol and who we insure, we play a very crucial role. It is even magnified with these difficult economic times, that we're in a position to provide stability in the marketplace and still look to return dividends and reduce rates for our customers."

    Indeed, Pinnacol has returned a dividend to policyholders for five straight years, most recently in May when it returned $120 million, bringing the five-year total to $347 million. Prior to 2005, it hadn't returned a dividend to policyholders in 22 years. Ross attributes the dividends to Pinnacol policyholders keeping safe workplaces, tending to claims and "working with our claims adjusters and our agents across the state to try to keep their own employees safe and claims costs down."

    Meanwhile back at the office, Pinnacol has not passed along increased health-coverage costs to employees for the past two renewals.

    Pinnacol describes itself as Colorado's "safety net" workers' compensation provider--by law it must provide coverage to any Colorado business, regardless of its size or accident history. Thus, it takes on more risk than many of its competitors, but it balances this with careful underwriting, prudent pricing, effective claims management, and what it describes as "the relentless pursuit of internal efficiencies."

    Count attention to its own employees' wellbeing as one demonstration of internal efficiencies--an area in which Pinnacol strives to show the way for the Colorado businesses it serves.

    2008 RANK: No. 2

    --Mike Taylor


    Edward Jones

    2 When you're talking about the Best Companies to Work For, it seems a given that Edward Jones will land somewhere near the top of the discussion. The St. Louis-based investment-services firm was judged No. 1 among large companies in 2006 and was No. 1 again last year. The firm has hardly slipped in the eyes of judges. This year's runner-up result matches its showing in 2007.


    Donna O'Bryant, who has operated an Edward Jones office in Colorado Springs the past 17 years, says the firm's model has proved especially effective in the current recession. The typical office setup consists of a financial broker/adviser, and an officer administrator who is paid by the Edward Jones company, not by the broker/financial adviser. Also, Edward Jones pays for each branch's office space.

    "What makes Edward Jones a great place to work for is we are a partnership, not a shareholder-owned corporation, so our decisions can be based on the long term," says O'Bryant, who serves as regional leader of southeastern Colorado representing about 70 Edward Jones offices.

    Founded in 1922, Edward Jones is the nation's largest financial-services firm in terms of branch offices with more than 9,900 U.S. locations, including 271 branches and 565 employees in Colorado. The company had revenues of $3.5 billion in the U.S. last year.

    "At a time when our industry had been in kind of a disarray, we didn't have to go to the government for any money. We didn't have anything in the trouble areas that so much of our industry was taken down by," O'Bryant says. "This year, what's really on everybody's mind about what makes Edward Jones a great company to work for is that they've stayed solvent and they've stayed independent and they've stayed forward-thinking."

    O'Bryant points out that a large number of Edward Jones employees are limited partners, so they share in the company's profits--and in the decision making. When it became evident early this year that the firm needed to cut spending to maintain a positive bottom line, employees came through with a number of ideas such as offering voluntary unpaid time off and reducing the number of annual company meetings, from three to two. In all, Edward Jones cut expenses by $91 million, O'Bryant says.

    "There was just an outpouring of recommendations and suggestions from all the employees--ways we could cut down on the budget," O'Bryant says. "And therefore we've remained profitable this year."

    2008 RANK: No. 1

    --Mike Taylor


    Omni Interlocken Resort

    3 Employees at Omni Interlocken Resort who want to further their careers...

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