For the past two years, the Star Tribune and the Pennsylvania research firm WorkplaceDynamics have set out to identify Minnesota's Top Workplaces. We have consistently found that good employers share similar traits that workers consider important, among them:
Feeling "genuinely appreciated.''
Believing that the organization is "going in the right direction.''
Having "confidence in the leader of the organization.''
Some familiar names have ranked among the top large-company workplaces in both 2010 and 2011, including General Mills and Thrivent Financial. And some lesser-known companies also claimed top spots, including gas and groceries chain Kwik Trip; education publisher Pearson and realty company Keller Williams.
Desireé Goret, who has worked at the Kwik Trip in Eagan, told the Star Tribune: "When I first got the job, I was so excited to go to work I was even having dreams about Kwik Trip.''
University of St. Thomas management professor Mick Sheppeck explained how valuable a top workplace can be: "An engaged workforce has a financial return on investment. If the workforce is more satisfied, it will meet more goals.'' See last year's report at www.startribune.com/topworkplaces2011.
The Star Tribune is once again working with WorkplaceDynamics to produce the Top Workplaces publication for 2012. As we did last year, we will be searching statewide, looking for the best places to work throughout Minnesota.
And it's time to get started on our 2012 survey.
If you know of a company, nonprofit or government agency with 50 or more employees that deserves to be considered for this year's Top Workplaces ranking, go to startribune.com/topworkplaces. You can also call 612-605-3306.
We encourage individuals, employers or employees to nominate their companies and tell us what makes them great places to work. The nominations must be submitted Feb. 24. In June, results will be published online at startribune.com and in a special print section. Thanks in advance for your help.
HEALTH CONCERNS TRUMP FINANCIAL CONCERNS
We're more worried about our waistlines than our wallets. That's one conclusion that can be drawn from a recent study of consumers by Allianz Life Insurance of North America.
After several years of high unemployment, sagging home prices and a volatile stock market, Joe and Jane Lunch Pail are more focused on resolving to improve their "health/wellness" in 2012 than make and stick to a financial plan.
The November-December online survey of 1,000 adults by Synovate's eNation for Allianz, found that the most important focus areas for 2012 are health and wellness (45 percent), financial stability (30 percent), employment (15 percent), education (7 percent) and leisure.
About two-thirds do not plan to engage in any financial planning in 2012 and the primary reason is that 35 percent of respondents checked "don't make enough to worry about it" and 23 percent said they already have a financial plan.
Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights at Allianz, acknowledged that it's normal for paycheck-to-paycheck folks to be most concerned about getting or retaining a job, but this lack of "financial focus" is at the highest level in the survey's three-year history.
"More and more Americans reach retirement without a traditional pension plan and people increasingly need to rely on themselves," Libbe said. "Whether you do it yourself, through a range of free and inexpensive tools online, or seek the help of a financial professional, the last few years have taught us that we must prepare for uncertainty and risk.''
Allianz, which tends to focus on people in the pre-retirement years, sells annuities that are designed to generate steady streams of income in retirement years.
WANTED: A NEW BREADFRUIT DRYER
THE SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS AND A NONPROFIT -- COMPATIBLE TECHNOLOGY INTERNATIONAL -- HAVE LAUNCHED A "PEACE ENGINEERING" CONTEST. THE PARTNERS SEEK TEAMS OF TWO TO THREE PEOPLE TO DESIGN, BUILD AND DELIVER A BREADFRUIT-DRYING DEVICE TO THE BREADFRUIT INSTITUTE, A SUBDIVISION OF THE NATIONAL TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN IN KAUAI, HAWAII, IN MARCH.
The goal: develop a drying device that will increase the fruit's shelf life so that more of it can be milled into a gluten-free flour.
Breadfruit is an underutilized staple, recognized for its potential to provide food security in tropical regions. One breadfruit tree produces, on average, 200 fruits per season -- a higher yield per acre than wheat and corn. The fruit, named for its bread-like fragrance, is high in carbohydrates and nutritional value.
"Tropical island nations are getting more populous, and islands also have limited land space ... not conducive to growing wheat or corn," said Camille George, an associate professor in the School of Engineering at St. Thomas. "If these designs work ... it could impact many people."
"There are other dryers in the world -- that are big, bulky and permanent -- but we hope this one will be innovative in its simplicity.''
The winning design will be introduced in Jamaica and Haiti to increase food security and to promote small business ventures and stimulate local economies.
Contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org. Final dryer designs must be submitted by Feb. 1 to: University of St. Thomas, Peace Engineering Initiative, School of Engineering OSS 100, 2115 Summit Av., St. Paul, MN 55105.
The first- and second-place teams will get a $3,000 and $500 prize, respectively. The winner also will get a trip to Hawaii in March to demonstrate the prototype.