State makes mark in top 150 U.S. workplaces

  • Article by: PATRICK KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2013 - 9:23 AM

New ranking of best places to work in the U.S. includes 23 employers in Minnesota among the top 150 in the nation.

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Chris Felten hand assembles a E10 Reactor which sprays expanding foam for the insulation market in the Minneapolis, Minn. Graco Inc.manufacturing plant, on Wednesday 6/29/2001.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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A diverse list of 23 large Minnesota employers ranging from retailers to manufacturers to service companies to health care organizations have received national recognition as great places to work.

The ranking by WorkplaceDynamics, an Exton, Pa.-based employee survey company, has created a ranking of top workplaces in the United States. The firm's national list is based on the 30 regional Top Workplaces surveys it conducts with newspaper partners across the country, including the Star Tribune.

"It's broader than any other list we know of," said Doug Claffey, CEO of WorkplaceDynamics. "Rankings are determined exclusively by employee responses to survey questions, removing any subjectivity, and the scale of the survey means that we have a real snapshot of what is happening in corporate America."

With 23 employers, including the Minnesota Twins (No. 11), Graco Inc. (No. 36) and Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare (No. 44), Minnesota has the largest concentration of top workplaces outside of Illinois and Texas, which had 26 and 24 top companies respectively.

WorkplaceDynamics surveyed 872 organizations with more than 1,000 employees and polled more than 1 million workers across the country to determine the top 150.

"I'm not at all surprised how well our firms rated,'' said Chris Puto, dean of the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. "It truly does reflect the values and the culture of the state of Minnesota."

Mike Brown, vice president of marketing and communications at the regional economic development organization Greater MSP, said there is an expectation around Minnesota that companies "provide a good workplace and that there is a reward in doing so."

"Employers have done that consistently and sort of set the expectation because they see it pays off in returns to their companies,'' Brown said. For example, Minnesota is home to 16 Standard & Poor's 500 companies. The existence of so many large, successful companies in Minnesota helps foster a quality corporate culture, Brown said.

"We hear a lot from companies that it is hard to recruit people here, but when people move here they don't like to move again," Brown said. "It's a good retention strategy as well."

At Minneapolis-based Graco, a maker of industrial pumps and spray equipment, employees receive stock options after their first year on the job, a policy that makes employees owners of the company and also helps the company retain its highly skilled workforce.

"There is a vested interest by the employee base in the success of the company and a fulfillment when the company has success" Graco spokesman Bryce Hallowell said.

Eric Elliott, president and CEO of Prime Therapeutics (No. 83) said in an e-mail: "We've built a workplace culture that encourages personal growth, supports innovative thinking, rewards accountability and helps employees use their unique skills to become passionate advocates for our members. People are our priority."

Anne Sample, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (No. 97) said in a statement: "Highly capable and engaged employees are critical to bringing our mission to life. We strive to create a unique and very special workforce culture. We are thrilled that our employees have chosen us as one of the nation's top workplaces."

WorkplaceDynamics uses a proprietary set of 22 survey questions to rank companies. And according to employees who completed the survey in 2012, Detroit-based Quicken Loans ranked No. 1 in the nation. Quicken Loans scored particularly well in organizational health, innovation, execution and confidence in the future, Claffey said.

The Container Store, which ranked No. 2 in the nation and was the top-ranked Minnesota employer, scored well in communication with senior leadership and execution, which means doing things "efficiently and well.''

The Container Store is a nationwide retailer based in Coppell, Texas, with 58 locations across the country. Its only Minnesota store, in Edina, was third on the Star Tribune's small-company list published in June.

Jack Militello, a management professor at the University of St. Thomas and the Opus College of Business, said history shows that Minnesota businesses could be committed to being good corporate citizens while also making money.

In 1976, Minnesota companies formed what's become the Minnesota Keystone program, whose members contribute a designated percentage of pre-tax earnings (at least 2 percent) toward the community. Graco and H.B. Fuller (No. 91) were founding members of that group.

"A good company makes a profit, anticipates a vision, understands and does the right things, and looks out for people's interests," Militello said.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926

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