By Gigi Wood

CEDAR RAPIDS – Ah, company culture, that coveted intangible.

To stay competitive in today’s market, employers want to attract and retain the best talent. To do so, many try to create a positive workplace environment, or company culture. And as many discovered last week, there are several companies in the Corridor who do that very well.

This is the first year of the Coolest Places to Work in the Corridor survey, and the only regional survey of its kind in the area. A few national magazines publish a list of Best Places to Work in the state, as does The Des Moines Register.

Corridor Business Journal Publisher John Lohman enlisted the help of Skywalk Group to survey and rank the companies. They decided that instead of ranking the “best” companies in the Corridor, it would be more effective to rank and honor the “coolest.”

Winners were announced June 11 at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids.

“We decided we wanted to do a ‘coolest’ places to work as opposed to a ‘best’ places to work because that (coolest) was more about company culture and it would allow our smaller organizations to fully participate,” said Lydia Brown, a founding partner at Skywalk Group. “And obviously most of the companies in the Corridor that employ people are small companies. So this really was more about company culture and what would be cool, versus who has the best health insurance policy.”

A call for nominations was made and companies submitted applications to participate in Coolest Places. Surveys were then sent to employees to complete anonymously. To qualify, a company needed to have at least 50 percent participation by employees working in the Corridor.

Companies of any size could participate. The winners were put into one of three categories based on total number of employees: small (1-20 employees), medium (21-99 employees) and large (100 or more employees).

Nominated companies were then ranked using a five-point Likert scale, based on their total score as determined by the employee surveys. Employees were asked questions and answered on the five-point scale: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree.

“So the question might be, ‘my manager knows me as a person,’ and then each individual answer is awarded a point value,” Ms. Brown said. “Then in addition, we asked a couple open-ended questions, like, ‘what’s the coolest thing about working at your company?’ And, ‘what could your company do to be more cool?’”

The winner of the small company category was Hawkins Wealth Management. Clickstop ranked No. 1 in the medium company category, while MidWestOne Bank came in at the top spot in the large company category. MidWestOne Bank was also honored as the overall Coolest Place to Work in the Corridor (see story, page 3). Geonetric received the people’s choice award, winning the social media contest on CBJ’s Facebook page last month, by receiving the most “likes” during a two-week period.

Now that the winners have been announced, the companies that applied will receive the results of the employee surveys from Skywalk Group.

“They’ll see all of the comments they received,” Ms. Brown said. “We’ve prepared a document for each of the companies, including the ones that did not make it into the top 24. So everybody who had a survey filled out will receive their survey results. Then we’re going to let everyone on the list know how they scored, how they scored compared to the peak performer, MidWestOne, and how they scored as an average. Then they will see the areas that they could perhaps improve upon.”

The original intention was to restrict the rankings to 20 companies total, but a few companies came in at No. 21, 22, 23 and 24, ranking only a point or two away from No. 19 and No. 20.

In assessing the survey results, Ms. Brown said one of the surprises was the number of non-profit organizations that applied, how highly many of them ranked and the number of people they employ within the Corridor.

“We had a number of nonprofits that participated and they had really high scores,” Ms. Brown said. “It was fun to see them be able to participate in something that you would think about being traditionally more of a corporate thing. I think that says a lot about our community, that the nonprofits are a vibrant part of the business community and they employ a lot of people.”

Another surprise was the variety of companies in the Corridor and the ways in which those companies create workplace culture.

“It reminded me that we have some really interesting companies,” she said. “To see the different responses and different ways companies create culture. One of the things we tell clients on a regular basis is, ‘people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their companies. So if you are a banker, you’re probably going to go to another bank. You’re not going to change careers, you’re changing companies. So the fact that people understand they need to retain their top talent by creating a culture where they want to be there and they want to be involved in the organization and they want to be a part of it, that’s how you retain workers. It was really interesting how varied the reasons were, for why people liked the places where they worked; there’s some creativity going on there that tells you that we just have a great business community. And I think we can learn from each other.”

Each of those 24 companies is profiled within the pages of this issue, along with many of the reasons why those businesses are considered Coolest Places to Work in the Corridor.


Help us congratulate the 2013 Coolest Places to Work in the Corridor:


#1 Overall, #1 Large Company: MidWestOne Bank

#2 Large Company: LimoLink

#3 Large Company: University of Iowa Foundation

#4 Large Company: MediRevv

#1 Medium Company: Clickstop

#2 Medium Company: ImOn Communications

#3 Large Company: OPN Architects

#4 Large Company: Geonetric

#5 Medium Company: Innovative Software Engineering

#6 Medium Company: Circle Computer Reources

#7: Cedar Ridge Vineyards

#8 Medium Company: Involta

#9 Medium Company: Performance Health and Fitness

#1 Small Company: Hawkins Wealth Management

#2 Small Company: Greater Cedar Rapids Foundation

#3 Small Company: Iowa City Area Development Group

#4 Small Company: ConnectFive

#5 Small Company: Theatre Cedar Rapids

#6: Devotay

#7 Small Company: Vortex Business Solutions

#8 Small Company: M.C. Ginsberg

#9 Small Company: Vault Coworking & Collaboration Space

#10 Small Company: Pigott Inc.

#11 Small Company: de Novo Alternative Marketing