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Our April issue brings our biannual Best Places to Work story

In March 2004, we launched a nice, new business section in Madison Magazine that, according to then-editor Neil Heinen, would “explore the economic pulse of our city.” It was the brainchild of Brian Howell, our editor before Neil, and the launch was as much a tribute to Brian’s legacy (he died a few months earlier) as it was a new model for a city lifestyle magazine.

The stories of the new economy, as it was dubbed back then, of the emerging high-tech and biotechnology sectors were exciting, even flashy, and they were everywhere—from the epic success of Epic Systems to the gobs of university research flooding the marketplace in the form of start-ups with hip, futuristic names like Life-Gen, EraGen and Mirus. We glammed up UW medical geneticist Michael Sussman that month for our cover story, “Future Fantastic: How close are today’s scientists to tomorrow’s breakthroughs?” Our poster boy for the new economy, Sussman sported a black leather jacket and a badboy attitude—arms crossed, eyes trained squarely on the camera with a look that said, “Don’t mess with my Petri dish.”

While the cover was tongue-in-cheeky, we weren’t kidding about the impact the new economy was having on our city and in both our private and professional lives. If you live in Verona, you know what I’m talking about. Epic’s footprint is now massive and nowhere near finished. Neither is University Research Park, home to more than 125 enterprising start-ups and UW spin-offs and soon dozens more when the second site opens.

Our shift in focus back then simply reflected what we were seeing inside the homes and workplaces across Madison and Dane County. A new, emerging creative class of young professionals redefining city life mixed with an aging and in-charge Boomer population fully engaged and totally wired. With these interesting dynamics and demographics in mind we published our first Best Places to Work survey in 2006, citing six companies whose workers had rated them tops in an employee engagement survey. We—and our readers—liked the project so much that we’ve conducted the survey every other year and including this month’s crop of new winners named some forty for-profit and nonprofit organizations as top area workplaces. To be eligible to participate, fifty-percent of employees must complete an anonymous questionnaire that measures their satisfaction in six key areas: trust, management, development, rewards, connection and life-work balance. This year’s overall winner is Coventry Village Retirement Community; find our full list of winners here.

All twenty winners—the most we’ve ever awarded—represent businesses large and small in a wonderful variety of industries, from banking and real estate to theater and baseball. The survey is conducted by Next Generation Consulting, a local company doing global work and whose smart and savvy founder Rebecca Ryan writes our monthly business column, “Next.” This year’s project was generously sponsored by the Gialamas Company, and we’re grateful they recognized the quality and integrity of the survey enough to attach their name to it. We also partner with WISC-TV3, whose on-air coverage of our Best Places to Work can be accessed here.

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One of the many other best-things-going in this community is our library system. We’re building a new one downtown that will serve us well into the future, and for the last few years the Madison Community Foundation has led and funded an effort to create in-depth specialty collections unique to each individual library that complement the communities they serve and re-emphasize their usefulness and relevance in the 21st century. For example, the South Madison branch focuses on education and employment while Monroe Street expanded its collection of audio books. And now, with a $350,000 National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant, the foundation will kickoff a $1.4 million fundraising campaign during National Library Week, April 9–14, to establish the Beyond the Page endowment to fund free humanities programming at all twenty-eight Dane County libraries. Find out more after April 1 at beyondthepage.info.

Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine.

Find more columns here.

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