Small Companies

Group Three: 15–49 employees

1. Natural Habitat Adventures
>Boulder, Colorado
The key to having 39 happy employees, says Ben Bressler, founder and director of Natural Habitat Adventures, is to keep them having fun. That's why company-sponsored ski trips, picnics, and keg parties are standard fare here. Bressler's "fun" mandate has passed from his staff to the company's clients, transforming it over 23 years from a one-man show to the official travel provider for the World Wildlife Fund, offering trips to seven continents and more than 30 countries. The second key? Respecting employees' individuality. "The people who work for us are incredibly qualified, but they don't necessarily fit the normal mold," says Bressler. "They may use the word dude too much, but they do a great job because they know their success here is up to them." If they succeed, the work environment is sweet: Employees are given at least two weeks each year for a fully compensated "site inspection" at one of the company's worldwide destinations, from Panama to Namibia; health insurance covers alternative healing like acupuncture and massage; and the nightlife never ends. It's not uncommon for the staff to bar-hop on Pearl Street with a bagpiper in tow. "What can I say," says Bressler. "We like to keep the party going."

2. Planet Dog
>Portland, Maine
You know you've got it good when you work for a company that encourages its 44 employees to bring Fido to the office, then tells them to go test new toys on the Maine seashore for an afternoon. Planet Dog, manufacturer of canine toys, collars, leashes, and travel bowls, offers human incentives as well, like indoor bike racks and a shower in the office, and will even pay half the sales tax on your new hybrid car. For Alex Fisher, founder and chief creative officer, these benefits were the logical result of following the social and environmental bottom line—not the immediate financial one. "We're in it because we want to create a positive culture," he says, "and we want to feel good at the end of the day."

3. Paradigm Group
>Nashville, Tennessee
Meetings at Paradigm Group aren't always painful: The company counts snowmobiling in Breckenridge as a strategic-planning session and rafting down the Ocoee River as a team-building exercise. For this small employee-benefits consulting firm with 19 employees, positioning itself as a leader means attracting the best brains through benefits like year-round flexible work schedules, a generous profit-sharing plan, and balance between work and life. All employees take turns cooking for the weekly breakfast meeting, half exercise during business hours in the adjoining fitness studio, and nearly all take advantage of morale-building trips to a climbing gym or ropes course. "We recognize that we have a good thing going here," says Bob Levy, founder and president. "We don't take it for granted."

4. Osprey Packs Inc.
>Cortez, Colorado
"The ethics of good corporate citizenship are ingrained in this company," says Sam Mix, associate marketing manager. "It's been that way since day one." Ethics, in Osprey's case, most often involve the environment, as evidenced by everything from its line of recycled backpacks to green initiatives like using renewable energy and paying employees 50 cents per trip to walk or bike to work. Community is also essential: Osprey's 29 employees get paid to volunteer on projects like cleaning up the Lower Gunnison River. As for work/life balance, first-year employees are given nearly three weeks of vacation time, including a floating powder day.

5. Petzl America
>Clearfield, Utah
Petzl's U.S. office has been operating on 100 percent wind power since 2006, and its France HQ will soon do business out of a state-of-the-art green building. But what the 44 American employees really value is a sense of community, nourished by an on-site climbing wall, a Ping-Pong table, and regular company cookouts.

The Runners-Up
6. Tabar Inc.
>Bethel, Connecticut
Tabar's 16 employees are always finding ways to get outside to use the private-label gloves and mittens they manufacture. The company makes it extra easy, with flexible working hours that allow everyone to enjoy the New England summers and snowy winters.

7. Western Spirit Cycling
>Moab, Utah
It's all about the bike at Western Spirit, an outfitter that offers guided cycling trips everywhere from Moab to Costa Rica. The 40 employees who work here get discounts on their guiding gear, bikes for the entire family at cost, and one trip each year (bring a friend!) free of charge.

8. EPT Design
>Irvine, California
This progressive landscape-architecture firm offers perks like storage space for surfboards, an open-door policy on bringing family and pets to work, and an annual program called EPT Trek that recently granted two of its 40 employees a stipend to travel the world to broaden their architectural influences.

9. Adventure Cycling Association
>Missoula, Montana
Your job: to get Americans psyched about cycling. Your rewards: Friday-afternoon staff rides and a free spot every year for you and a friend on one of more than 40 cycling trips the 28-employee association sponsors each year.

10. Kelty
>Boulder, Colorado
Kelty—which runs a 100 percent wind-powered office—pays its 21 employees to test its outdoor products and organizes regular staff outings in the Rockies.

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