Becoming one of the best

SPONSORED: Companies vie for the celebrated second annual Best Workplaces Alaska award.

It may seem like an odd lineup: Alaska Behavioral Health, a series of large-scale clinics that serve their communities’ psychiatry, therapy and crisis services needs; Heather’s Choice, a company that crafts dehydrated meals and snacks meant to be brought on outdoor adventures in the 49th state; and Natural Health Center, a holistic and alternative health center providing everything from acupuncture to chiropractic care. But for all their differences, they all have something in common - they were among the 12 businesses, ranging from small to extra-large based on number of employees, that were recognized as the inaugural awarding of Best Workplaces Alaska in 2021.

Given that the award is still in its infancy - and that so much has happened since the last honor - it’s worth a refresher on the competition.

Last year’s winners

While you may not know Furniture Enterprises of Alaska, you’ve surely heard of their subsidiaries and perhaps even purchased a couch or bedroom set from them. The parent company owns Sadler’s Home Furnishings, Williams & Kay, Ashley Furniture Homestore, the Ultimate Mattress Store and Mattress Firm locations from Sterling to Fairbanks. It was one of the winning extra-large (more than 110 employees) companies during the 2021 competition.

Another winner in the extra-large business category was MTA Solutions. The 100% Alaska-owned company has been around since before statehood and works to supply the vast state with technology and communications products, such as internet and phones.

One of the reasons MTA was nominated, according to Jessica Gilbert, MTA’s Publication Relations Manager, was because of their commitment to investing in their team.

“Last year, we invested nearly 30 hours of training per employee, which was an additional 14 hours per employee than we saw in 2020,” Gilbert said. “We’ve also embraced hybrid work as a way to uphold a work-life balance. Employees now have the opportunity to work three days a week in the office and two days a week from the comfort of their homes, or wherever else they please. Given our emphasis on employees’ physical, mental and social well being, we’ve undergone a series of facility renovations to ensure employees have more ergonomic environments, mother’s rooms and more collaboratives spaces with an abundance of natural light, and have also introduced an in-office bistro as a place for our staff to refuel and reconnect.”

Then there’s Parker, Smith & Feek, a privately-owned brokerage firm that works to provide commercial insurance and beyond to local businesses. The medium-size company was nominated by one of their employees, who noted that while “Many companies talk about teamwork, PS&F demonstrates teamwork. Knowing that I am part of a team motivates me.”

Other winners included McKinley Management, an investment company; Ancora Home Health and Hospice; Public Employees Local 71 labor union; First Rate Financial, a boutique mortgage broker; law firm Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot; and VOA Alaska, a young services agency.

Finding the best of the best

Nominations for the award are submitted by individuals, employees and business leaders. While compiling a list of outstanding businesses is easy - there are so many capable and worthwhile options within Alaska - singling out those that are the top of their class is not.

To help, Alaska Journal of Commerce and Peak 2 Peak Events turned to Colorado-based data collection and analysis firm DataJoe Research to help sift through the nominations and provide an unbiased analysis of the organizations.

The Best Workplaces Alaska award, per the program methodology, seeks to provide a “program to help businesses better serve customers and employees … and recognize excellence.”

To do the evaluation, employees of the various nominated organizations were asked to fill out a short, free, online, anonymous survey answering a series of questions about the organization, including about the strength of leadership, work-life balance, pay, benefits and beyond. Companies that had less than 40% of employee participation were eliminated, while all others moved to the judging round. The winners were announced at the end of 2021, at an awards ceremony.

Relishing the competition

For Alaska Journal of Commerce and Peak 2 Peak Events, there are a myriad of obvious reasons to participate. For once, the recognition helps employers attract and retain top talent - necessary during a time where the labor market is red hot. It proves the culture and environment is employee approved.

But, even if a company doesn’t win, participating is advantageous. All nominated businesses are evaluated by a confidential third party, providing unique insight on what the company may wish to focus on in the coming year, as previous winners have discovered.

“Our team is very proud of this award, and it has definitely had an impact on our recruiting efforts,” said Jason Wooten, President of First Rate Financial, a 2021 award winner. “Our culture is something that we pay close attention to, and have been cultivating for years. This award validates the work that we have done in this area, and motivates us to continue striving for excellence.”

How to nominate for 2022

Nominations have already been rolling in, but it’s not too late to submit your favorite organizations that have “strong, healthy work-place cultures” for consideration. Forms are available at; all proposals need to be submitted by the July 31 deadline.

This story was produced by the sponsored content department of the Anchorage Daily News. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.