Top Workplaces first-timers: Having fun with the job

  • Article by: DON JACOBSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2014 - 6:21 AM
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Canterbury Park CEO Randy Sampson in the Winner's Circle on opening night in May. "Racing," says Sampson, "is a fun business."

Photo: DAVID JOLES • Star Tribune,

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The 27 companies that made the list of Top 100 Workplaces for the first time this year have their own ideas for employee satisfaction and success.

A quick survey of a handful of them turned up some common themes: a shared mission, respect for talent, generous opportunities to advance and simply having fun.

Founded in 1983, Vadnais Heights-based Frerichs Construction is a relatively young company by Twin Cities construction industry standards. In that time, it has established itself as an expert in multifamily housing, spearheading such projects as the Clare Apartments for people living with AIDS in northeast Minneapolis, the Robbins Way senior apartments in Robbinsdale and the Hiawatha Commons near the Lake Street station of Metro Transit Blue Line.

Company owner Chris Zuspann said his firm has been able to put together a tight-knit and loyal culture in which honesty and initiative is rewarded.

“I think we give people opportunities that they might not have had elsewhere which allows them some flexibility to blossom from within our own company,” he said. “We believe a lot in promoting from within and recognizing people for doing a good job.

“We always preach integrity and honesty, doing the right thing, so I think people enjoy a workplace like that. It’s kind of refreshing and different from other places, where they don’t have anything to say in terms of values.”

In construction, he says, “Everybody gets put into situations where there’s a choice. Maybe if you do a little bit of a wrong thing, you can make more money, but if you do the right thing, you have your integrity. Part of our value system here is to maintain your integrity, keep your honesty, build trust with clients and rely on that to bring you where you want to go.”

At Canterbury Park Racetrack and Card Casino in Shakopee, CEO Randy Sampson and his co-owners know they have a built-in advantage as an employer. “Racing is just a fun business,” he says.

With 706 employees, Canterbury Park this year is celebrating 20 years under the ownership of Sampson, who along with his brother Curtis and Dale Schenian purchased the track after it had closed in 1992 due to competition from other forms of legalized gambling. Its resurgence is partly due to its longtime and loyal workforce, he said.

“We started 20 years ago, and it’s surprising, but we still have 26 employees from that opening day,” Sampson said. “We had just a couple hundred employees then, so it’s quite a high percentage. Everyone buys into the mission of wanting to see horse racing be successful, so that may make it easier for our company to rank so highly in employee satisfaction.”

Sampson says the executives have an “open door policy” with their staff and strive to know even part-timers on a first-name basis.

Workers at Valley Natural Foods co-op in Burnsville also have a strong shared mission: helping the community to be healthier through the promotion of organically grown food.

The firm started in 1977 as one of the three original suburban co-ops, along with Lakewinds Natural Foods in Minnetonka and Stillwater’s River Market. Valley now has 155 employees and is thriving as the demand for organic and locally grown foods has taken off.

“With the vision and values that we have, people are working here for a higher purpose than just coming to work and earning a paycheck,” General Manager Susan McGaughey said. “Our mission is a healthy community, and I would say that service orientation has been there since the inception of the co-op back in 1977.”

The founders of the co-op came together 37 years ago “to provide the community the service of organic and healthy foods,” and that mission has only served to make it a rewarding place to work, she said.

To succeed in the competitive and highly technical world of computer security, a company needs to boast not only a coterie of deeply talented software engineers but also an equally astute design and sales staff, all of whom need to be equally respected.

Matthew Dornquast, CEO of the Minneapolis-based software firm Code 42, says that was one of key reasons his company made the list for the first time this year.

“First and foremost, it’s because great people love working with great people and we have a lot of great people here,” he said. “We want to protect and manage the world’s information. We want to make sure that no one ever loses a file again. We’re all aligned on the same mission.”

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