25 Best Places to Work

Whether you're contemplating a career change or just curious, learn more about the best places for Baltimore's best and brightest.

– Photography by Daniel Bedell

Every two years or so, we round up the best places to work in the Baltimore region. This year, we actually considered skipping it. After all, isn’t any job a good job these days? Can people actually afford to be selective in a recession? In a word, yes. It turns out that many of the best companies to work for around town are also some of the most financially sound. (A coincidence? We think not—a happy employee is a productive employee. And an employer who understands that fundamental fact is already in the habit of making good decisions.) Better news still: Every single employer listed in our story is hiring. So whether you’re clutching a pink slip and pondering your next move, contemplating a career change, or just curious, read on to learn more about the best places for Baltimore’s best and brightest. You’ll be happy to know that, even in these trying economic times, there’s still room for a foosball table in the employee lounge.

Merkle

Location: Headquartered in Columbia Employees: 1,100 nationwide; 450 at Maryland headquarters
Who they are: A database marketing company
What we love: Nice building, “Dream Grants,” big rewards

If you’ve always wanted to climb a mountain, go dog sledding, or test your survival skills in the wilderness but can’t imagine finding the time or money to make it happen, Merkle has your answer: “Dream Grants.” The program lets employees tackle a new experience or adventure, without having to shell out big bucks themselves.

How it works: Through Dream Grants, Merkle sends one employee or group of employees per quarter on an adventure of their choice, whether it’s swimming with sharks in Costa Rica or climbing Mount Rainier.

Merkle also lets employees follow their dreams for higher education. The company has a tuition reimbursement program that pays 100 percent of tuition and Merkle University,

an in-house education and training program led by CEO David Williams and seven other Merkle employees, passes along knowledge on key business topics. There’s also an employee referral program that shells out up to $5,000 for employees who bring others on board, and the usual benefits: a 401(k) with employer match; comprehensive health, dental, and vision (Merkle pays the bulk of the premiums); and flexible scheduling.

Merkle also spoils high-performers: Each year, the winner of the Chairman’s Award gets a two-year lease on a new BMW. But even if you’re not driving a swank new Bimmer, you still get to work in nice surroundings. Merkle’s gleaming Columbia headquarters, completed in June 2008, boasts plenty of open space, ample outdoor patios, casual lounge spaces with plasma TVs, wireless Internet access, XM satellite radio, a cafe and coffee bar (with free fountain drinks, coffee, and espresso machines), a company store, and pool and foosball tables. And for healthy types, there’s an onsite gym and fitness classes.

Greater Baltimore Medical Center

Location: Towson Employees: 3,500 employees and 900 community volunteers
Who they are: Hospital
What we love: Tuition reimbursement, generous help for nurses-to-be, solid benefits

When nursing student Michael Morgan graduated from Towson University in January, he already had a job—and a solid relationship with GBMC, his new employer. After all, as part of its Nursing Scholars program, the hospital had kicked in $2,500 per semester for half of Morgan’s nursing school career.

In exchange, Morgan committed to working at GBMC for six months for each $2,500 grant, which, it turns out, was no big sacrifice. “I would have worked there anyhow,” says Morgan, who early on was impressed by GBMC’s offerings and environment. “The nurses are great and I love all the doctors.”

Even if you’re not an aspiring nurse, GBMC has perks to please. For all employees, the hospital offers up to $5,000 per year in tuition reimbursement, a 403(b) plan that matches 50 percent of an employee contribution (up to 6 percent of an employee’s salary), and a traditional pension plan, to which it contributes 2 percent of the employee’s annual salary.

The hospital has four health insurance options, with a couple of nice twists—they pay about 75 percent of premiums and offer a discount for nonsmokers—plus a host of wellness programs.

The hospital also has made a concerted effort in recent years to communicate better with employees through an employee relations council.

Ascend One

Location: Columbia Employees: 500+
Who they are: A privately held family of companies—CareOne Services, Amerix Corporation, 3C Inc.—that help consumers get out of debt and manage their finances
What we love: A virtual work option that lets employees work from anywhere

Companies with big call-center operations can tell you (boy, can they tell you) what a challenge it is to pull off a pleasant workplace. Being on the phone all day—and surrounded by others who are—isn’t exactly relaxing. But in 2006, when Ascend One launched its virtual workforce arrangement for its contact center, it took one big leap in the right direction.

The arrangement allows employees to work from home, a benefit nearly 300—or 50 percent of the contact center workforce—have taken advantage of. The result: a 10 percent rise in productivity and lower attrition. Oh yeah, and happy employees.

In addition to letting employees work in their jammies, the company also offers solid benefits: There’s a 401(k) plan and medical, dental, prescription, and vision benefits; tuition reimbursement of up to $4,000 for undergraduate and $5,000 for graduate programs; and adoption assistance of $2,500 per child. And employees can earn up to four weeks vacation in their first year of employment.

There are also lots of voluntary programs, including health savings accounts, supple–mental life insurance, pre-paid legal service, and pet insurance.

CollabraSpace

Location: Annapolis Employees: 33
Who they are: A provider of web-based collaboration solutions
What we love: 100 percent employer-paid health insurance and four-week paid sabbatical after five years of service

When operations manager Shawn Davis started working at CollabraSpace in 2003, he didn’t give too much thought to what he’d do with the four-week sabbatical every employee is entitled to once they reach the five-year employment mark. “It’s kind of exciting because not a lot of companies offer that,” Davis says. “But at the same time, five years seems like a long way off.”

But by 2008, Davis had one of the best reasons of all to take time off work. “My wife and I recently adopted two children from Russia,” he explains. “I’m using the time to spend time with them. I couldn’t imagine getting more support from a company than we got.”

That flexibility, and the paid time off, are two ways the company “walks the walk in taking care of employees,” says Davis. But there are other ways, too: CollabraSpace pays 100 percent of the healthcare insurance premium and deductible for employees and their families, plus 100 percent of dental insurance premium. New employees are immediately eligible for the 401(k) plan, which has a 100 percent match on the first 3 percent of employee salary.

G.1440

Location: Clipper Mill campus, Woodberry Employees:  77
Who they are: IT consulting and staffing solutions
What we love: Nice digs and a casual, flexible culture

It’s nice to love what you do. Even better to love what you do and where you do it. The folks at G.1440 always felt they nailed the “what you do” bit, but it wasn’t until the company moved into the new Clipper Mill live/work/shop campus in 2007 that they could really lay claim to the “where” part of the equation.

The sleek work space seamlessly blends the new with the old. Exposed brickwork and strategically placed windows that show off a small stream running through the building give you the sense you’re in a historic space, without making you feel like you’re working in a mill (because, really, who wants that?).

When they’re not hard at work, employees can chill out at Clipper Mill’s snazzy pool (which Baltimore has already crowned as Best Pool), relax on comfy couches in the meeting room, or stroll the campus’s walking trails.

And while it’s part of a larger operation—Sinclair Broadcast Group purchased a majority share in 1999—G.1440 has managed to keep the low-key, tech-startup feel employees cherish.

“We’re the typical IT company that you see on television,” says human resources manager McKenzie Griffith, who adds that it’s not uncommon to see employees show up in flip-flops and jeans at 10 a.m. and stay well into the evening. “People enjoy coming to work but, at the same time, they work really hard,”

G.1440 also does pretty well on benefits: There’s a 401(k) with employer match of 50 percent up to 4 percent of salary; discounts on stock buys in Sinclair Broadcast Group; medical, dental, and vision insurance; and wellness benefits like 100 percent coverage for annual doctors’ visits and immunization for children, discounted gym memberships, and access to health coaches.

As for the economy: While the company has felt a pinch related to the housing crisis—it had to lay off two workers related to software it develops for homebuilders—the firm’s staffing and consulting businesses continues to grow.

LifeBridge Health

Location: Various Employees: 7,028
Who they are: LifeBridge Health consists of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital Center, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Jewish Convalescent & Nursing Home and their subsidiaries and affiliated units, including LifeBridge Health & Fitness, the LifeBridge Medical Care, and Practice Dynamics
What we love: Commitment to employee development

In June 2008, LifeBridge held a special kind of graduation ceremony—complete with caps and gowns and, yes, a few happy tears. The point was to honor entry-level employees who’d completed the 32-week School at Work program, designed to help them acquire the skills they’d need to pursue a college career.

These weren’t just any graduates. Most came from entry-level positions, in housekeeping, nutrition, and transportation, among other fields. “They have GEDs, but they might have been out of school for a while or haven’t obtained the skills they need to do well in college,” says LifeBridge Workforce Development Coordinator Anita Hammond, who helps shepherd the students through LifeBridge’s programs.

There’s also a tuition assistance program worth up to $5,000 per year for college courses and help for those who seek a career in nursing. (There’s a program specifically aimed at attracting nurses to LifeBridge.)

There are healthcare benefits for full- and part-time employees (LifeBridge pays 80 percent of the cost for full-timers; 60 percent for part-timers); an assistance program that offers unlimited counselor assistance by telephone on childcare issues; eldercare assistance; educational guidance; home purchase/sale consultation; and relocation guidance

Then there are the little touches. When gas prices hit $4 per gallon in the summer of 2008, for example, LifeBridge delivered a $50 gas card to almost every employee.

McCormick and Company

Location: Headquartered in Sparks, various locations worldwide Employees: 7,400 worldwide; 2,100 Maryland
Who they are: Manufacturer of spices, herbs, seasonings, and flavors
What we love: Culture of caring for employees (and employees who care back)

When C.P. McCormick took over leadership of McCormick and Co. from his uncle in 1932, the company was struggling financially. But unlike his uncle, a tough-as-nails autocrat, C.P. had more than the bottom line in mind. Taking over, he raised wages, shortened employees’ work hours, and did something that was nearly unthinkable in his uncle’s time: C.P. asked employees how the company could be better run.

C.P. McCormick’s approach was so successful that his Multiple Management Boards (M.M.B.s) are still at work today. The boards team employees of all levels and backgrounds to solve business problems and solicit employee input. McCormick also instituted work-life balance initiatives that were well before their time, including profit-sharing and a winter holiday break that most employees still enjoy.

Today, there are even more benefits: tuition reimbursement, a flextime work arrangement, a 401(k) program with employer match, a traditional pension plan, and profit-sharing.

RTKL

Location: Fells Point Employees: 1,100 worldwide, 170 Baltimore 
Who they are: 
Architectural/engineering firm
What we love: Nice office space, good benefits, fun projects

It’s kind of cool to see your firm’s handywork as you’re sailing down I-83 or chugging along Pratt Street. At RTKL, the firm’s high-profile projects include MICA’s funky Gateway dormitory and the glitzy new Hilton Hotel, among many others worldwide.

It helps, too, to have energizing space to work in, as RTKL does in its warehouse-chic Bond Street Wharf offices (designed by RTKL, of course). The open studio-type, environmentally friendly space boasts waterfront views for 90 percent of employees (and the rank and file get the best seats).

RTKL also does well on benefits. There is a 401(k) with 100 percent match on the first 3 percent of contributions and 25 percent match on the next 2 percent of contributions, for a maximum match of 3.5 percent on 5 percent of contributions. There’s also an employee stock purchase plan and coverage for health, vision, and dental, plus a $2,000 adoption assistance plan.

The company also boasts a formal mentoring plan and tuition reimbursement for certification exam prep courses or college courses. Throw in flextime, teleworking, and other flexible work arrangements, an employee-assistance program, and other perks, and you’ve built yourself a pretty great place to work.

St. Joseph Medical Center

Location: Towson Employees: 2,300
Who they are: Hospital Center
What we love: Solid benefits, family feel, newly renovated facilities

If you're looking for stability in tough economic times, healthcare is probably a good place to be. And for anyone looking for a hospital with a family feel, St. Joseph may be a good choice.

The hospital, which just underwent a massive, $125 million renovation and which frequently earns kudos for its heart center, has a reputation as a place where employees stay for good. In 2008, for example, two employees celebrated 50 years on the payroll.

What keeps them around? One factor is likely the culture, where caring and flexibility are the norm. The hospital offers a range of employment statuses, from full-time to part-time to flex. Part-timers only need to work 32 hours in a two-week period to be considered part-time. And in some cases, they can pick up health benefits while working as little as two days a week.

There's also a standard 401(k) with employer match, plus a pension plan for all full-timers and most part-timers, and a tuition reimbursement program that offers up to $5,250 for full-timers and $2,625 for part-time employees.

Lockheed Martin

Location: Bethesda (with operations in Baltimore) Employees: 140,000 worldwide, more than 1,800 in Baltimore
Who they are: A systems integrator and global security company; the Middle River operation focuses on ship building and vertical launching systems for the military
What we love: Commitment to diversity, plus big-company benefits and opportunities

If you're a scientist or engineer and you're looking for a company that offers top-notch compensation and benefits and commits to helping employees develop their careers, you might have already considered Lockheed. And it has an insatiable appetite for talent: The company hires roughly 5 percent—about 4,900 people—of all engineers graduating from American colleges and universities.

What employees find when they come on board are competitive pay packages, a robust 401(k) program with company match, solid health benefits—with domestic partner coverage—and flexible work arrangements.

Lockheed Martin regularly wins accolades as an employer. Our favorite: Military Spouse magazine listed Lockheed Martin as one of its top 10 Military Spouse-Friendly companies.

Planit

Location: Inner Harbor Employees: 60
Who they are: Advertising, public relations, animation, design, and marketing firm
What we love: Great space, work hard/play hard culture

When Planit started to realize it was outgrowing its office space in the Power Plant building, co-founder Ed Callahan knew finding a replacement was going to be tough. "It had this huge balcony" that overlooked the harbor and proved the perfect location for Planit's ever-popular happy hours.
"We knew we couldn't have a traditional office."
What Planit found lacked the balcony but made up for it with sweeping water views. Callahan and co-founder (and buddy since grade school) Matt Doud worked closely with the architect to ensure the company's creative bent would be reflected in the space. The result: a sleek yet funky vibe that begins with a bar-like reception desk and bright orange lounge-like waiting area. And yes, there's beer in the fridge.
Inside, the open-format office boasts plenty of casual breakout spaces for brainstorming
or just chilling out. The den-like creative space features low lighting and a pool table, which often gets a workout while employees bat around creative ideas.
Advertising is an intense business, and the culture reflects that. When employees gear up for their annual Halloween contest, the competition is so hard-core that "we've had people call in sick because they're like, 'I don't have anything good enough,'" says Callahan.
That culture, which puts a premium on creativity, entrepreneurialism, and collaboration, is part of what draws top talent to Planit.
And while economic woes often have an impact on advertising, Callahan thinks Planit, which opened in 1994, is well-positioned to ride out the storm. "Companies are watching their dollars more," he says. "They're saying 'What can we do that's targeted? How can we zero in with something that's unique that no one else is doing?' That's old hat for Planit," says Callahan. "It's what we've always done."

ADG Creative

Location: Columbia Employees: 29
Who they are: An advertising, design, and corporate identity firm
What we love: Inspiring leadership, cool space, fun work

When you walk into the nondescript corporate office building that houses ADG Creative, the first thing you might notice is the space itself—it’s sleek and funky in a way that most corporate office parks can’t pull off, no matter how hard they try. Inside, there are all the elements you’d expect from a creative company: comfy collaboration spots where employees can trade ideas; the foosball table; the dart board (which is frequently in use).

What you might also notice, though, is ADG founder Jeff Antkowiak, a fixture in the operation. You’re more likely to see him huddling next to an employee’s desk or pitching in on a video shoot than commanding an executive meeting in the boardroom (although he does that quite well, too).

In ADG’s culture, collaboration is the key word, and Antkowiak, the chief creative officer who says he’s “still a producer in the company,” leads by example. Although ADG attracts those with a passion for work—and long hours aren’t unusual—“we don’t crack the whip,” says Antkowiak. “It’s a culture of ‘how can I help the people I work with?’ And that’s rare.”

Those who thrive in that culture are also a rare bunch. And ADG is frank about that upfront. Instead of simply subjecting would-be hires to personality tests to see if they fit, ADG leaders give candidates the results of those leaders’ own personality tests. “So they can see how nuts we are,” jokes chief operating officer Craig VanBrackle.

Once new hires are in, ADG focuses not just on getting work out of them, but also on “their skills and their development,” says VanBrackle. “The expectation is that everyone in the organization is a leader.”

Along the way, ADGers get to do some pretty cool work, whether it’s creating web applications, dreaming up clever ad campaigns and branding messages, or creating videos onsite. Clients are large and small and come from a variety of fields (which is one reason Antkowiak says ADG should fare reasonably well even in a recession). Sometimes those clients are really big: In 2008, one ADG employee was asked to demonstrate a software application for then-President Bush.

Protiviti

Location: Downtown Employees: 3,300 worldwide, 50 in Baltimore
Who they are: A global business consulting and internal audit firm, specializing in risk, advisory, and transaction services
What we love: Good benefits, tuition reimbursement, and a culture that fosters employee development

In some ways, working for a large global company can be great. Benefits tend to be solid and there’s usually plenty of opportunity to grow without having to leave the organization. On the flip side, it can be easy to get lost in a large company. 

So, how about a little of both? As part of global giant Robert Half International, Protiviti has big-boy benefits, including tuition reimbursement, healthcare coverage for domestic partners, and coverage for mental health care and alternative care, as well as access to MedExpert. 

So what about the small-company appeal? “The difference between the partner-level person and a beginning person isn’t that great,” Protiviti managing director Charles Goldstein says of the culture at Protiviti. “The feeling is more that everyone is as smart as anyone else. It’s very team-oriented.” Newer employees are often teamed with seasoned professionals, which means they get exposure to expertise and to projects of all sizes and types.

T. Rowe Price Associates

Location: Downtown (global HQ); Owings Mills and other U.S. and worldwide sites Employees: 5,364 worldwide; 3,884 in Baltimore area
Who they are: Global investment management organization
What we love: Impressive benefits and a commitment to employee career development

Not surprisingly, given the economy and the fact that T. Rowe manages others’ assets, T. Rowe had a tough 2008. And while it expected early 2009 to be similarly painful, the company did manage to outperform most of its peers and to remain debt-free and financially stable. That’s good news for present (and future) employees.

On day one, a new hire is entitled to start participating in the company’s 401(k) plan and T. Rowe begins contributing 4.5 percent of the employee’s compensation each pay period, regardless of how much the employee contributes. It also dumps in up to an additional 6 percent of compensation per year as a profit-sharing feature. On health benefits, T. Rowe picks up the bulk of health care costs and offers coverage to domestic partners.

There’s also a tuition assistance program and adoption assistance.

Northrop Grumman

Location: Electronic Systems headquarters is in Linthicum, with several other offices locally Employees: ES employs approximately 21,000 people worldwide, including about 8,500 employees in Maryland—most of them in the Greater Baltimore area (Northrop Grumman has 120,000 employees worldwide/10,700 employees in Maryland)
Who they are: ES designs, develops, and manufactures defense and commercial electronic sensors and systems
What we love: Solid benefits and pay, a commitment to listening to employees, and to developing employees’ careers

First up, there is ES’s educational assistance program, which covers the full cost of tuition and fees and pays the tuition up front to save employees the trouble. ES furthers the whole “knowledge” game by linking more senior employees with newcomers, formally and informally, as a way to share expertise.

Other reasons ES is a great place to work? Try solid healthcare benefits, a reputation for competitive pay, and subsidized emergency in-home childcare and elder care.

Raytheon Solipsys

Location: Fulton Employees: 187
Who they are: Solipsys makes advanced tactical display and communication systems
What we love: Intriguing work, good benefits, great space

When you ask them what they like about their jobs, Solipsys employees usually mention two things: each other, and making products that make a difference. Certainly, the company takes great pride in its command and control surveillance systems for the military, our allies, and homeland security, among others.

But Solipsys also kicks in with some impressive benefits. Most noteworthy is its 401(k) plan, which has a whopping 200 percent match, although the three-week vacation (from day one) is pretty nice as well.

There’s also comprehensive health and dental, flexible spending accounts, wellness programs, and tuition reimbursement worth $3,500 per year for undergraduate work and $7,000 per year for graduate level programs.

And the new Solipsys workspace makes being on the job that much easier, offering state-of-the-art labs and offices in a commercial campus that boasts a “Main Street” of retail and restaurants, plus a fitness facility.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital/University

Location: East Baltimore and other locations; Homewood Employees: about 10,000 in the hospital and health system; 25,000 at JHU
Who they are: Healthcare provider; university
What we love: Solid benefits, a generous tuition reimbursement, and rubbing elbows with very brainy people

When you’ve been named the nation’s best hospital for 18 years running, you’ve got the prestige angle locked up—and with that comes the ability to lure top talent.

But then you have to retain that talent, which Hopkins does with stellar benefits. It pays an average 86.3 percent of employee health premiums and includes vision, prescription, and dental coverage. Standard benefits include coverage for acupuncture, chiropractic care, fertility treatments and IVF, and adoption benefits. Hopkins also offers an exceptional tuition reimbursement program.

Like the health system, JHU also helps employees further their education, shelling out up to $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement and covering half the cost of undergraduate tuition for the children of employees.

Hogan & Hartson  

Location: Downtown (with offices worldwide) Employees: 2,603 worldwide; 80 in Baltimore
Who they are: International law firm
What we love: Diversity, flexibility

Pop quiz: When you think about family-friendly workplaces, which industries come to mind? We’re guessing the legal world, known for its long days and billable-hours pressure, isn’t at the top of your list. But Hogan & Hartson, a legal heavyweight nationally and internationally, makes a concerted effort to buck that trend.

For starters, H&H’s Alternate Career Tracks program allows any associate to elect one of two billing tracks: the kinder, gentler 1,800 billable hour track or the more aggressive 1,950 track. For years, the firm has also offered part-time hours for attorneys who want to cut back even more. H&H also recently created an Alternative Work Arrangements Committee, made up of partners and associates, to find ways to make life easier for employees.

Already, the firm is doing pretty well when it comes to benefits and work-life balance. H&H pays

95 percent of the cost of health care premiums for those making under $100,000 and 80 percent for those making more than $100,000, plus 95 percent of an employee’s dental premium. Domestic partners and part-timers are covered. Attorneys and exempt employees get four weeks vacation during their first year (and H&H swears it actually wants them to take their leave and get out of the office). 

New moms get eight weeks of paid medical leave, followed by four weeks of paid parental leave and six weeks of paid primary caregiver leave, for a total of 18 weeks at full pay. Beyond that, they’re given up to one year of unpaid, job-protected leave before and after the birth of a child. Fathers can take up to four weeks of fully paid parental leave following baby’s arrival, plus up to an additional six weeks of primary caregiver leave to help take care of the little one. There’s also up to $5,000 in financial aid to help employees adopt a child and four weeks of paid parental leave.

No surprise then that the firm is popular with women, but H&H also has earned a reputation for diversity across the board. And H&H does its part in helping everyone work their way up, offering formal mentoring and training through H&H Academy and The Associate Professional Development Program, which helps associates create a tailored professional development plan.

KPMG

Location: Downtown Employees: 23,000 nationwide; 196 in Baltimore 
Who they are:
 An audit, tax, and advisory services provider
What we love: Generous maternity leave, family-friendly policies

If you’re a parent, it won’t be much of a stretch to imagine this scenario: You’re dressed and ready for that big 9 a.m. meeting when suddenly your 8-year-old starts wailing about a tummy ache. You’re the main event at the meeting, so canceling isn’t an option. What do you do?

If you’re a KPMG employee, you just pick up the phone. KPMG offers a service that will find you a last-minute sitter or in-home emergency backup care for the elderly. Best of all, KPMG will foot the bill.

It’s just one of the ways the firm goes above and beyond when it comes to making its employees’ lives just a little bit easier. Another way? The firm goes beyond Family Medical Leave Act requirements and offers up to 26 weeks of job-protected leave for maternity, parental, and adoption leave. New moms can collect full pay for up to 12 of those weeks, and though the rest of the leave is unpaid, employees keep their insurance benefits.

Want more? Try a great 401(k) program, tuition reimbursement, flextime or a compressed work week, telecommuting, job sharing, and a prime Inner Harbor location.

Tessco Technologies

Location: Timonium, Hunt Valley and locations in Texas and Nevada Employees: 947 nationally; 801 in Baltimore 
Who they are:
 Wireless technology products and solutions supplier
What we love: Great benefits and a close-knit culture

When TESSCO most recently surveyed its employees on what they liked best about their jobs, the answer wasn’t the pay or the benefits or family-friendly policies. Those are all good, but at TESSCO the resounding answer to the question was: the people.

Good thing, too, since the company’s culture revolves around teamwork and a flat organizational chart. That’s evident in the layout (which includes an awesome new cafeteria): no offices, even for the CEO, who, like the rank and file, spends his days in a cube. (Okay, it’s a nice cube, but still.) And the company works hard to erase the usual division between the front and back office. With the company about evenly split between those who work in the office and those who work in the warehouse, “that’s very important here,” says Doug Rein, senior vice president of performance systems and operations, adding that all new hires in the office do a stint in the warehouse. “We don’t want it to be an us-versus-them.”

That means it’s all “us,” a concept that’s evident in how the company celebrates. For Halloween, the entire company is known to parade down McCormick Road in costume. “It’s ridiculous,” says Rein, with a grin that tells you it’s the kind of ridiculousness TESSCO employees revel in.

Of course, there’s more that makes TESSCO a great place to work. The company’s 401(k) offers a respectable company match and TESSCO makes a discretionary annual contribution of up to 40 percent of an employee’s total 401(k) deferrals. TESSCO also offers a stock purchase plan through which employees can pick up stock at a 15 percent discount.

Anyone working more than 30 hours a week is eligible for healthcare benefits, for which TESSCO pays 80 percent of the cost. The firm also ponies up for continuing education, paying up to $5,250 a year for degree programs and offering ongoing business-related training and participating in the “House Keys for Employees” program, through which it offers $1,000 toward the closing on the purchase of a home. Employees also have the opportunity to earn bonuses, which are paid out quarterly and annually. In 2007, they ranged from 15 percent to 40 percent of salary.

And while no one can guarantee growth, the company continued to break revenue records well into 2008 and, with a diversified line of business that serves retail, the government, and business, it seems reasonably well positioned going into 2009.

Wegmans

Location: Hunt Valley Employees: about 700
Who they are: A privately held grocery chain
What we love: Employees come first (seriously)

When the corporate folk at 72-store, Rochester, NY-based grocer Wegmans start thinking about a new program or policy, “The first thing we ask is, ‘Is this the right thing to do for our people?’” says Jo Natale, the chain’s director of media relations.

It’s a sentiment that hinges on the company’s basic business philosophy: “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customer,” says Natalie. “We have a culture where employees care about one another and the way customers are treated, it’s as simple as that.”

The chain puts those kind thoughts into actions through its pay and benefit offerings, which are especially impressive for its industry. Noteworthy benefits include full medical coverage for all eligible employees, a 401(k) with company match of 50 percent for each dollar an employee contributes up to 6 percent of salary, plus a defined contribution retirement plan for eligible employees, adoption assistance, and an employee assistance program.

But the benefit that really stands out is Wegmans’s employee scholarship program, which is open to all employees who meet the academic criteria and are in good standing with the company. Part-timers get $1,500 per year for four years or up to half the cost of their tuition and full-timers get up to $2,200 per year. And children of full-time employees are eligible for up to $2,200 in tuition reimbursement, if they work part-time at Wegmans. Best of all, there’s no restriction on the course of study, which means you can get your degree in any field you’d like. Employees clearly like the program: Since Wegmans launched it in 1984, it has shelled out $67 million in tuition assistance to more than 21,000 employees.

Clearly Wegmans—which has earned a reputation for delivering gorgeous vittles and in its own words, “a nearly telepathic level of customer service”—has all the ingredients for success as an employer (Fortune magazine has named Wegmans one of its “100 Best Companies to Work For” for each of the past 11 years).

Good news in Maryland: Wegmans is in various stages of development for new stores in Frederick, Crofton, Columbia, and Landover.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield

Location: New digs in First Mariner building in Canton, plus various other locations regionally Employees: 5,550 total (2,884 in Baltimore area)
Who they are: Not-for-profit health insurer
What we love: Solid benefits, female-friendly environment

When it comes to diversity, especially hiring women, CareFirst gets particularly high marks. Sixty-two percent of the workforce is female. The health insurer has a succession planning process that helps identify women and minorities as candidates for management positions and flexible work options, including flex time and teleworking.

There’s also an employee assistance program that helps workers with work-life issues like finding eldercare or solving childcare problems, and a generous maternity leave—six weeks at full pay for full-time associates.

In recent years, CareFirst has put the spit and polish to its Owings Mills headquarters, renovating them floor by floor. The building now boasts a shiny new cafeteria, plus fitness rooms (with regularly scheduled classes).

Other ways CareFirst treats employees right: a 401(k) with a 50 percent match up to 6 percent of associates’ pay; solid healthcare with several options for medical, prescription, dental, and vision coverage; and tuition assistance.

M&T Bank

Location: Baltimore, plus locations nationally and locally Employees: total 13,637; Baltimore 1,883
Who they are: Provider of commercial and retail financial services
What we love: Good benefits and stability

You get a good idea of how employees feel about M&T Bank when you consider this: About 71 percent own shares in the bank (employees own about 20 percent of the total shares).

So, what is it that breeds such love? The company pays up to 85 percent of medical, dental, and vision insurance—and benefits are extended to domestic partners. There are tuition reimbursement and employee discount programs. And for new moms, the bank offers a range of paid leave.

And the bank’s healthy: M&T regularly earns kudos for being well-managed: It made Forbes magazine’s list as one of the Platinum 400 Best Managed Companies in America.

W.R. Grace & Co.

Location: Corporate headquarters in Columbia, operations worldwide Employees: 6,400 worldwide, 500 in Columbia 
Who they are:
 Specialty chemical and materials company
What we love: Generous benefits and a nice suburban campus

Walking around Grace’s 166-acre Columbia campus, you realize there’s little reason to leave (most don’t—turnover is 5 percent, versus 11 percent industry-wide). There’s a subsidized cafe, a medical office, and a gym.

But Grace also does a stand-up job in other benefits: There’s a 100 percent 401(k) match, a traditional pension plan, and free dental coverage. Maternity leave is generous, and there are college scholarships to children of full-time employees, and full college tuition reimbursement for staffers.

But what about that pesky bankruptcy? Anyone who would discount Grace because of its Chapter 11 status—it filed for reorganization in 2001 following personal-injury asbestos claims dating back many years—can rest easier knowing the move wasn’t tied to the company’s fundamental strength. Sales have grown from $1.7 billion in 2001 to $3.1 billion in 2007. Grace expects to emerge from bankruptcy this year.

Fed Ex

Location: Linthicum Heights (district office) Employees: 143,000 in U.S., 500 in metro Baltimore
Who they are: Global express transportation company
What we love: Tuition assistance and health care for full- and part-timers, a solid track record for promoting from within

When you make the bulk of your money schlepping other people’s stuff around, a year like 2008, with its sky-high fuel prices and economic upheaval, has got to smart. Just how much FedEx will hurt—and for how long—depends largely on how its customers, and the economy as a whole, fare. 

So far, however, FedEx has managed to keep flying (relatively) high. And when it comes to taking care of employees, FedEx has earned a solid reputation, including one for resorting to layoffs only in dire circumstances.

On benefits, it stacks up admirably, despite recently suspending for one year its generous 401(k) employer match: There’s a stock-purchase plan, tuition assistance of up to $3,000 per year for full- and part-time employees; and medical, dental, and vision plans for full- and part-timers (FedEx pays the bulk of the premium). In addition, FedEx is one of the few employers that offers retirees healthcare benefits.

FedEx also makes its mark by committing to help employees climb the corporate ladder. In fact, 83 percent of the company’s managers were promoted from within. For those interested in the management track, there’s ASPIRE, a program that assesses employees’ skills and provides coaching and classes to help them advance. FedEx also throws its own school into the mix: The 24/7 FedEx University offers 1,600 technical courses, 800 e-books, and an online tutor.

Of course, it’s not all about work. FedEx offers fitness facilities and discounted health club memberships as well as a work-life balance program that offers free advice, information, and referrals to local and national resources through a toll-free number or via a website. One other big perk: FedEx, which is, after all, an airline, has teamed up with other air carriers to offer employee discounts on personal air travel. So when you absolutely, positively have to get there, you can do so on the cheap.

UPDATED (8/1/12): Corrected G.1440's location to the Woodberry neighborhood.


HOW TO BE LAYOFF PROOF (almost)
When it comes to protecting yourself against layoffs, there's good news and there's bad news. We'll start with the bad. "I don't think there's any surefire way of making yourself layoff proof," says recruiter Chuck Sudina, president of Timonium-based Sudina Search. "There are going to be a lot of things that are just beyond your control." Now for the good news: There's plenty you can do to help ensure that when it comes time to hand out the pink slips, you're not at the top of the list. Ultimately it all boils down to "making yourself as marketable as you can be," he says. Some tips on just how to do that:
Be visible: "This is probably not the time to go on an extended vacation and not be around," says Jodi Hume, an executive coach with The Business of Life. Instead, you want to make a concerted effort to show your value to your employer and even to those outside your company or field. "Being known as an expert in your field is gold," says Hume. Volunteer to speak at industry meetings or to use your business skills in the community. The more you can make your skills visible to others, the more opportunities you'll have.
Make money, Or save money: In a recession, employers focus on jobs and people who either bring in more revenue or have skills that can save them money. Even if your job doesn't directly involve bringing in money or saving money, you can help by "thinking about your job as if it were your business," says Hume. "Really take ownership and make yourself totally invaluable."
Make, and keep, connections: You might only seriously consider attending those trade association happy hours when you're in a job hunt, but networking "is something people should be doing all the time," says Hume. And don't forget to network with the people who know the job market best: recruiters. "It makes sense to have a relationship with a recruiter," says Sudina. That means that throughout your career when recruiters call, you should be friendly and helpful, even if you're not looking to switch jobs. When you do move, reconnect with recruiters, past employees, and colleagues to let them know where you've landed. It can be as simple as sending a quick e-mail to update them.
Upgrade your skill set: "If you're close to a college degree, get your degree. If you need certain certifications in a given field, do everything you possibly can to get them," says Sudina. You might also consider picking up skills in areas of job growth: Right now, jobs in healthcare, IT, engineering, and sales are still relatively hot.
Move carefully: For most people, job-hopping isn't going to be very tempting in today's climate. In fact, in one recent survey by Accenture Ltd., only 13 percent of respondents said they were actively looking for a job, down from 30 percent in 2005. That's because the recession makes people think twice about leaving a sure thing, no matter how imperfect it may be. But that doesn't mean you should stay put under any circumstances. First, carefully investigate your prospective new employer for financial stability. And consult with the experts, says Sudina. "Call a search firm and say you're considering making a move," he suggests. "A good recruiter is going to tell you to stay put or point out 3 or 4 or 5 good options that may be available to you."


BENEFIT STATS: HEALTH
Percentage of companies offering these benefits nationally:
Prescription drug coverage: 96%
Dental coverage: 94%
Vision coverage: 78%
Employee Assistance Program: 75%
Mental health coverage: 75%
Dependent-care flex. spending account: 75%
Long-term care insurance: 45%
Healthcare insurance for part-timers: 39%
Domestic partner health benefits: 36%
Healthcare benefits for retirees: 32%

More News & Community