Wonderful Workplaces

Ping-pong tournaments. Gift exchanges. Friendly pranks. Mystery trips. Chili cook-offs. What do these things have in common? They are all elements that can help make a workplace wonderful.

We’re not just making this up. We’ve scouted Southwest Michigan to find workplaces that know how to make work both fulfilling and fun for their employees. These workplaces know that creating a comfortable, energetic, and team-oriented environment isn’t only nice, but necessary. And they know that while profits are important for their success, healthy, happy people are vital.

The 269 MAGAZINE Wonderful Workplace Awards recognize the standout efforts made by several local businesses and explore some of their proven methods for success. These businesses demonstrate that a thriving company culture can engage and empower employees and employers alike, and pay dividends.

Want to be a wonderful workplace? Read on for inspiration, and maybe—just maybe—you should invest in a Ping-Pong table.

The vibe at JVTR is anything but taxing

Jansen Valk Thompson Reahm PC (JVTR) makes sure its hardworking accounting, tax, and consulting experts are excited to get up in the morning by taking steps to make it’s office is a great place to work. “Up until about five years ago, the culture here was a very traditional public accounting culture. That meant suit and tie every day; you used to punch a clock, work on Saturdays, and sometimes take work home with you depending on the time of the year. The only fun part of the day was when you talked to each other,” says manager Keith Hayden.

Wightman and Associates, unity brings its workforce together

Connecting diverse disciplines like architecture, engineering, and surveying across multiple locations in Benton Harbor, Portage, and Allegan has proven to be a unique challenge for Wightman and Associates. However, over the years this dynamic has bonded its employees together creating a special culture that invigorates the professional and private lives of everyone involved. “We have a lot of resources in our firm, and they all have to learn how to work in a collaborative team environment. We need to know our coworkers and be able to call them up to get stuff done. It’s been critical to our continuity as a team across offices and specializations to be able to do that,” says Alan Smaka, director of the Portage office.

National Flavors finds the key ingredients for workplace success

What could be more rewarding, or more delicious, than creating the latest flavor of ice cream? The experts at National Flavors aim to do just that by blending enticing essences that go into everything from baked goods to confections. Similarly, as an organization, National Flavors has been able to perfect its recipe for wellness in the workplace. “Continuous improvement is a big deal here. Anytime we have something that we think we can make better, we own it together and changes happens fast,” says Katie Harmon, quality control supervisor.

Kal-Blue designs a custom experience

A vision of excellence has enabled Kal-Blue to thrive since opening its doors in 1960, building a large and loyal customer base. Over the years, the print and technology specialist has evolved to meet the changing needs of both its customers and workforce at its Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids locations. “It is important to make sure you come up with ways to make everyone, especially a younger generation of workers, feel like they are part of a team,” says owner Kip Young.

CSM Group forges the workplace of tomorrow

When CSM Group, a corporation specializing in revolutionary construction projects, was invited by Kalamazoo-based developer Treyster to reimagine an abandoned plot of land just outside Kalamazoo it jumped at the chance. What was once an antique metal foundry has been reopened as an open-office hive of operations that melds a vintage industrial aesthetic with cutting-edge office design. Claiming a spot of its own in this urban office space, CSM has developed an optimal workspace intended to maximize the productivity and overall wellness of its employees.

Leadership at Special-Lite opens the door to engagement

At Special-Lite’s headquarters in Decatur, Michigan, CEO Henry L. Upjohn II is a regular sight on the production floor. A visionary in both leadership and engineering, he has played a pivotal role in the history of this entryway manufacturer. Not only has Upjohn personally designed many of the specialty machines and unique manufacturing methods that give Special-Lite doors their unshakeable quality, but he has also engineered the positive work culture that sustains his staff.

Catalyst Development Group builds a climate of caring

Catalyst Development Group, responsible for constructing and maintaining many striking structures across Michigan, knows that it takes the whole team to get a project off the ground. They have therefore created a scaffolding of strong values and a positive culture to support every employee. “We build buildings that will be around for 100 years or more,” says Patti Owens, managing director and vice president. “We build our culture in the same way—everything we do is very intentional.”

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