Best companies provide care, leadership and fun

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Articles - March 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Only the software giant Microsoft (No. 1, Large) earned a higher score for benefits. Among the perks Northwest Newborn offers are fully paid medical, dental, and alternative care coverage; subsidized child care; 15% of salary contributed to a retirement plan regardless of employee contributions; and a whopping 27 paid days off after one year of service.

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Dr. Patrick Lewallen, medical director of Northwest Newborn Specialists, tends to a baby in the neonatal ward of Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

“Our work is emotionally draining and physically challenging but the payback is huge,” says Dr. Louise Baxter, who has worked for Northwest Newborn for 15 years and kept in touch with many of her patients as they have grown up to lead healthy lives. “We have just a great team, and we have the privilege of taking care of critically injured babies and helping families that are in crisis.”

When you visit with tightly knit companies such as Stamp-Connection and Northwest Newborn, you often hear people say they consider co-workers “like family.” At Oregon Cascade Plumbing & Heating in Salem (No. 1, Medium)many of the core employees aren’t just like family. They are family.

Majority owner and president Josh Welborn was 6 years old when he first started going out on plumbing jobs with his father John, who co-founded the business in 1969. He still works with his father today, along with his brother Jeremy. Foreman Wayne Miller, a 30-plus-year veteran, works with his two sons Kevin and Todd. Accounting assistant Julie Moore works with her father Jerry, a foreman, who worked with her grandfather Bill up until his retirement.

“We’re family and friends first and co-workers second,” says Julie Moore. “That means everybody helps each other out, no matter what the job is. Everybody’s got your back.”

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One of the very tiny patients cared for by Northwest Newborn’s specialists. Job satisfaction and loyalty are high with this Portland team.

It starts at the top. Bearded and slim, dressed in a black Nike baseball cap and an Oregon Cascade Plumbing & Heating T-shirt, Josh Welborn exudes understated confidence in a manner that brings to mind a good poker player. He says little in an interview and shows almost no emotion until he touches on the subject of family. “We’ve got two, three, even four generations, and those guys are proud to work here. They’re pushing their sons and grandsons to get a job here. That feeds into the stability we have here. We’re a big corporate company now I guess, but we still try to keep that down-home feel as much as we can. My dad’s been pretty darn successful and he still runs around in Levi’s. He’s not trying to prove he’s better than anybody else. He’s never forgotten where he came from.”

Conversations with employees in the modest offices and the fabrication shop out back turn up a consistent show of support for the relaxed, casual leadership style, the frequent barbecues and celebrations, and the company policy of covering chiropractic and acupuncture treatments for nagging injuries as well as traditional health care.

It helps that Oregon Cascade is doing better than many contractors in the recession. The company recently nabbed a $15 million job doing plumbing and heating for the new football arena at the University of Oregon, which brought a bit of a hiring spree. They had plenty of good candidates from which to choose.

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Top: A staff meeting at Northwest Newborn where many employees attend via teleconferencing, with photos displayed to show who is on the phone. Bottom: Dr. Patrick Lewallen consults with RN Chrissy Harrison in the neonatal ward of Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

“We have no trouble at all finding people when we need to bring people in,” says co-founder and vice president Walt Haskins. “We’ve got people beating our doors down even in good times. That tells you something.”

It also tells you something that Oregon Cascade scored extremely high for workplace satisfaction in spite of being a non-union shop, which is unusual for contractors of this size. Welborn says running an open shop enables the company to be more flexible and efficient, winning bids by trimming costs without cutting pay or benefits.

Oregon Cascade is 25% employee-owned, with Welborn holding the other 75%. Long-time employees say they appreciate holding a stake in the company’s fortunes, and find it motivating. “You produce for the company and the company gives back,” says Wayne Miller, who is about to retire after 38 years of service. “It’s pretty simple but not every company does that.”

Oregon Cascade wasn’t the only contractor to make the 100 Best in spite of a vicious downturn in the building industry. Adroit Construction Company (No. 6, Medium), Olsson Industrial Electric (No. 7 Medium), Oregon Electric Group (No. 8, Large) Reitmeier Mechanical (No. 10, Small) and Wilson Construction Company (No. 11, Large), among others, all scored well. So did May Trucking of Salem (No. 22, Large), from another industry hit hard by the recession.

May Trucking’s director of human resources, Scott Smith, says the company acted early to cut fuel costs by limiting idling time and investing in low-resistance tires, which helped management keep costs down without resorting to cutting pay or benefits. “A lot of our competitors cut back and this was a good thing for us,” says Smith. “There are a lot of drivers available and we’re interested in getting the best ones out there to work for us. That means increased safety and fewer mistakes that cost us money and customers.”

If there’s an industry that fared worse in 2009 than construction and trucking, it would have to be banking. Yet financial institutions such as Bay Bank (No. 4, Medium), Pacific Continental Bank (No. 18, Large), Umpqua Bank, (No. 23, Large), Chetco Federal Credit Union (No. 33 Medium), the Commerce Bank of Oregon (No. 14, Small) and Clatsop Community Bank (No. 25, Small) managed to keep workplace morale high.

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