Best Places To Work 2007

We tallied the scores for 55 different 417-land companies and found 12 that earned points heads and tails above the rest. They are the Best Places to Work in 417-land, and what they have to offer might surprise you.

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Photo Edward Biamonte

Seven members of the 25-year club, one of Empire Bank's bragging points.
Empire Bank

First place, 101 to 250 employees
317 points


They'd Rather Be Banking
Empire Bank has seen two major ice storms in the past 20 years. The last one was this January, and it resulted in temporary power outages and employee teamwork to keep all the locations up and running. But the first storm back in 1987 was a whole different animal, and it resulted in a fire that burned down the Sunshine and Glenstone bank. It was all caught on security cameras. It took the bank about a year to rebuild, but the employees’ focus didn’t suffer. They set up shop in a garage down the road, and it was business as usual at the bank.

Some of the people who toughed it out during that rough patch are still with the company today. Russ Marquart, president and CEO, and Linda Case, senior vice president of human resources, will tell you how Empire Bank takes pride in the 32 employees (35 by the end of 2007) who make up it’s 25-Year Club. Some of them have been with the company for almost half a century. That’s nearly as long as the bank has been around. If you ask Marquart why he thinks employees stick around for so long, he’ll joke that “Empire Bank has really good private investigators who get dirt on you.” But really, the opportunity to advance your career within the company is a strong reason for it, Case says. Marquart, for example, started part-time as a credit analyst when he was in college at Southwest Missouri State. After graduation, he joined full-time. Then he moved on up the ladder until, 19 years later, he became president of the company.

Empire Bank has a good name in the community, Case says. She points out that many employees are active in charities such as the United Way. The bank matches individual contributions made to the United Way, and in 2006 it matched more than $22,000 for a total contribution of more than $44,000. They also raise money by having casual days where employees can dress down if they give a few dollars to the charity of the day. “We’re only as strong as our community,” Marquart says, and as the Ozarks grow, so does Empire Bank. He says the company makes it a practice to encourage employees to give back through whatever charitable outlet they have a passion for.

One thing an institution like a bank can easily offer to employees is financial training, which it pays for. But there is also a tuition reimbursement program and competitive benefits package, which are both big draws. And employee social activities? “Mud wrestling and tractor pulls,” Marquart jokes. No and no. But the company does have tailgate parties at Cardinals games, holiday parties, craft fair and bake sales, participation in Sucker Days, staff appreciation day, Halloween dress-up and a friendly football game between two “rival” branches: The Nixa and Ozark locations of the bank. Some branches outside Springfield are run by area presidents who are responsible for local decision-making, and Marquart says that is one of the bank’s greatest strengths. The bank trusts them to know how to serve their customers’ and employees’ needs in their area. “Hire good people, and give them good training, and let them make the decisions,” Marquart says.

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