Best Places to Work
For these Columbia-area winners, it’s still work … but these companies make it all worthwhile.
By Linda Lamb
At first glance, most of these companies seem to have little in common. They might market medical devices, security systems, financial services or pest control. They might be experts at accounting, hydroelectric engineering, staffing shortages or computing via the cloud.
But they’re all terrific places to put in your 40 hours a week, according to the Best Places to Work in South Carolina survey for 2015.
About the selection process: The Best Companies Group, an independent research firm, distributes a list of “best” workplaces through SC Biz News. It is based on a two-part assessment process. Employers complete a questionnaire surveying details about its policies, practices, benefits and demographics. Another survey gets the employees’ point of view – on issues such as company leadership, corporate culture and communications, employee engagement, and their views on the work environment, training, relationships with supervisors, pay and benefits.
Here’s some information on local companies that came out on top. (Some are based here; some are part of firms headquartered elsewhere.)
Small/Medium Employers (15-249 U.S. employees)
Scott and Company
Columbia and Greenville
This business that bills itself as “not your average accounting firm” bears the name of founding partner N. Randolph Scott, who died in 2012. And it strives to live up to the legacy of “Randy” Scott, who built the firm while investing deeply in community causes such as the Boy Scouts, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Columbia Urban Lending Project and Keep the Midlands Beautiful.
Scott and Company prides itself on helping a diverse array of clients develop the flexibility to thrive, even in difficult economic times. Clients include those in health care, education, finance, governmental agencies, manufacturing, construction, not-for-profits and real estate.
Engineering/consulting firm Kleinschmidt builds relationships with clients as its engineers, scientists and regulatory professionals find solutions in specific areas. The firm specializes in hydroelectric engineering, regulatory and permitting, fish passage and protection, onshore wind, marine renewable services, ecological services, water resource engineering and valuations. It has 11 offices in the U.S. and Canada.
Sounds challenging – and Kleinschmidt encourages employees to meet challenges by continually developing their knowledge and skills. The work environment, as described on its website, aims for “a relaxed, professional atmosphere.”
Kleinschmidt invests in its employees. For example, it supported efforts of some S.C. staffers to educate the public about hydroelectric power, held along the Columbia Canal. And in October, the company flew everyone to a fun and productive retreat in Portland, Maine.
The Mariner Group
The Mariner Group comes right out and promises careers that are “exciting and challenging.” It even uses the f word – fun – on its website, assuring potential employees that they should be able to find rewarding careers while having fun at their jobs and making a difference in the world.
The Mariner Group is a tech company that creates software solutions for security projects in several areas. It began in 2000 with jobs in maritime domain awareness – hence its name – focusing on projects related to maritime activities and security. But it has branched into “situational awareness” in areas that include not only seaports but oil and gas, original equipment manufacturers, private industry and airports. Creative approaches are particularly prized by clients in these high-pressure environments.
Columbia (four other S.C. offices, one in Washington, D.C.)
Technology company SCRA says its employees can be confident they are making a difference as they work to expand the technology-based economy in South Carolina. The research and development nonprofit manages R&D programs in areas including prototypes, maritime technology, advanced materials and energy.
SCRA advances the “knowledge economy” by helping innovative companies grow and create jobs. According to the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, SCRA generated $1.4 billion in economic activity during fiscal 2015.
For employees, SCRA pledges to provide continuous learning and professional growth, to value initiative and decision-making skills, and to provide mentoring that helps employees reach their goals.
You might assume a company called Rhythmlink International markets exotic musical instruments. But you’d be wrong. To get on the right track, think about the rhythms of the body, especially the heart. Rhythmlink actually makes and markets medical devices.
Medical device technology is huge field in which innovators are constantly inventing and improving devices most of us don’t think about very often. For example: those little electrodes a nurse attaches to your body before you have a stress test or an EEG, and products like gels and tapes specifically created to use with them. Rhythmlink provides an array of such products, pledging to deliver superior quality, fair prices and attentive customer service.
Founded by neurodiagnostic technicians and engineers in 2002, Rhythmlink also encourages its employees to contribute to the community, with projects such as food drives and blood drives.
Columbia (offices in Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee)
These days, everybody needs a good IT guy … or gal … or company. VC3 has been an information technology leader since 1994, serving commercial companies and public sector organizations looking for IT solutions.
The trendy area of cloud computing has been a VC3 focus for six years. Cloud computing involves a network connection that gives a business access to a pool of resources to serve its technology needs. It’s a dynamic area that’s constantly changing to meet demands for technical tools and network security.
Amid all this tech talk, VC3 on its website proclaims its pride in being a Best Place to Work. And it gives credit to its engineers, programmers, Web designers and support specialists for making it “an awesome place to work.”
Columbia (also has offices in Greenville and Florence)
It is “not just a ‘temp’ service,” this company stipulates on its website. Recruiting Solutions says its employment and staffing services have created a business that builds long-term partnerships with both employers and job-seekers.
In a job market that’s still recovering from the Great Recession, finding the right employee (or the right job) can be challenging. Recruiting Solutions has more than 20 years of experience in using background checks, skills analysis and screening to look for the best fit in every situation.
Electric Guard Dog
There’s nothing like a heartwarming, man-and-his-dog story. You might say that’s how this business got its start – although the German shepherd on the company logo does not look too friendly.
The Electric Guard Dog security business began in 1973, using trained guard dogs to protect customers’ property. In the early 1990s, founder Bill Mullis transitioned to more high-tech solutions to deter crime. Now, the company’s multilayered security systems include solar-powered perimeter fencing and detection alarms.
CEO Jack DeMao tries to take part in interviews with every prospective employee, no matter the position – part of an effort to maintain a “family company” feeling. There’s an emphasis on helping employees grow and on promoting from within. DeMao says he also tries to set an example of giving back to the community – he takes part in charity cycling events himself.
Large Employers (250 or more U.S. employees)
(Fortune 500 company with more than 11,000 offices, including 244 in S.C.)
Investment firm Edward Jones offers financial advice for serious investors, stressing a personalized approach. It’s been in business since 1922 and has headquarters in St. Louis, Mo. Its website says its job is to identify clients’ goals, then help them invest wisely so they can achieve them.
“What drew me to Edward Jones is the fact that we are owned by the employees,” said Fred Sellers, a licensed adviser for Edward Jones in Northeast Columbia for 19 years. Thus each small office – usually just one adviser and one assistant – has some flexibility. But all have a vested interest in the company’s overall success.
Despite the relative autonomy of each office, Sellers said, “We all work and play well together” for training, networking, socializing and volunteering. The company values charitable efforts, and local offices contribute through projects such as Rotary fundraisers, food bank donations and organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union
Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union stresses its status as a not-for-profit financial cooperative that’s in business solely to serve the financial needs of its members. “Every account holder is both a member and an owner at a credit union,” its website explains.
Members elect a volunteer board of directors, and the credit union returns earnings to members through better rates on loans and savings accounts and lower fees.
Palmetto Citizens also shows its commitment to the community through efforts such as its sponsorship of the Harvest Hope food bank’s holiday food drive. The credit union made it easy for customers to contribute by collecting monetary and food donations at its 12 locations. In 2014, these donations provided almost 40,000 pounds of food for needy families.
South Carolina Federal Credit Union
South Carolina Federal Credit Union started in 1936 to serve Charleston Naval Shipyard workers. Now, it’s one of the nation’s largest credit unions with 150,000 members. It offers a range of personal and business banking services, including online and mobile banking.
The not-for-profit credit union’s history includes significant public service such as its response to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. To help members who lives were disrupted by the hurricane, it forgave $83,000 in returned check fees and $46,000 in service charges. More recently, it has sponsored efforts such as food donations to those affected by the historic flooding of October 2015.
The South Carolina Federal Credit Union Foundation helps to support a variety of community causes in areas including business, education, health, animal welfare and culture.
Select Health of South Carolina
Select Health of South Carolina serves some of the neediest residents in all 46 counties of the state – 75 percent of whom are under age 18. Select Health, with state headquarters in Charleston, is part of AmeriHealth Caritas, one of the nation’s largest Medicaid managed care organizations.
As explained on its website, Select Health of South Carolina strives to focus on improving quality for the 330,000 insured members who receive services under its plan.
It can be challenging to reach underserved residents and get them more engaged in their families’ health. Select Health reaches out with efforts such as providing supplements to expectant mothers, and an annual Jump-Start Back to School event, which offers health screenings, school information and backpacks filled with school supplies in a fun setting with a variety of kids’ activities.
Terminix started small – as pests go, they don’t get much smaller than the termite. In 1932, a chemist came up with the first formula to wipe out termites, and Memphis-based Terminix still holds the patent.
Trevor Knox’s family has owned the independent franchise in Columbia for 67 years, and it’s one of the nation’s largest. With 53 branch locations in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, it has about 1,100 employees – many of them no doubt helping people cope with the growing threat of bed bugs and in S.C., increased infestations of many pests after the recent floods.
Knox says the company stays current with pest control treatments that are effective, safe and environmentally sound. Employees are rewarded with competitive pay and benefits, perks such as profit-sharing and 401K plans, and a policy of promoting from within. Branch employees take part in community outreach programs serving their local areas.
Shealy Electrical Wholesalers
Columbia, (eight more S.C. locations)
Shealy Electrical promises to approach each project with a focus on finding solutions for every challenge, while also prioritizing quality and safety. It serves markets including construction, industrial, automation and energy.
Projects currently highlighted on its website reflect clients in a diverse array of businesses. They include retrofitting lighting in a parking garage, installing a solar roof on an office in Georgia, and renovating the Health Sciences Building at the University of South Carolina. The firm is “plugged in” to the community as well, with a policy of contributing to charitable organizations such as the Oliver Gospel Mission and Toys for Tots.
For employees, Shealy Electrical promises “extensive hands-on and self-guided training and development,” to help provide opportunities for career growth.
Columbia, (headquartered in Greenville, SC)
Hubbell Lighting is a leader in lighting technology and customer service. It has been improving the lighting industry for over 100 years by developing products and solutions that are technologically advanced and achieve unprecedented levels of performance. Hubbell Lighting's employees play a key role in achieving these primary business objectives.
To ensure success, Hubbell Lighting has established a strategy for consistently reviewing and refining it's business practices to ensure they contribute to the organization's high standards for behavior and ethics. The organization is focused on turning employee feedback into action. Employees at all levels feel they have ownership of their career progression, are encouraged to voice their concerns and take action that will contribute to the cause.
Creating a "best place to work" requires a full commitment from decision makers to implement workplace policies that promote the development of employees, continuously investigate best practices to encourage workplace harmony, provide and promote the tools and resources that will enhance personal capabilities and increase the diversity of the talented individuals that serve the company.
With a core philosophy and strategic practices in place, professional development programs that provide employees the opportunity to grow and take on greater responsibilities can be activated. Examples of these programs include the popular Improving Business Acumen and Leadership Forum, two challenging seminars that bring employees together from across the entire enterprise. Employees participate in a robust, year-round, review process to guarantee supervisor engagement and trigger productive career-oriented discussion.