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In our eighth annual survey of the province’s best employers, we reveal how the cream of the crop rose to the top in a year full of extraordinary challenges. (Click the company name to see its profile.)

With the economic downturn putting a squeeze on bottom lines everywhere, many companies have put a similar squeeze on staff in recent months: axing perks, reducing supports and even cutting pay. In this year’s survey of the best companies to work for in B.C., we recognize those employers who didn’t lose sight of the big picture, who continue to see their employees as their biggest asset rather than their biggest expense.

Surprisingly, in a year marked by belt-tightening, participation was up over last year: 96 companies made the short list in 2009 compared to 92 in 2008. And there are a lot of new faces in the crowd: 61 of those companies weren’t even in the mix last year, and nine of this year’s 20 top companies are new to the winners’ circle.

This year we’ve shaken up our coverage a bit to give more companies their deserved moment in the limelight: throughout the pages that follow, you’ll see lists that break out the top five winners in a number of industries. As well, just to add a little entertainment value to the package, we added a bonus question to this year’s survey, asking employees to tell us what celebrity their company most resembles. Some of the names were rather predictable (Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney seemed particularly prevalent), and some reflected a more inward-looking gaze (“Brad Pitt, because I look like him”). Still, in having to personify their corporate culture, many employees offered up revealing, insightful and, yes, humorous choices. We hope you will enjoy.

While the celebrity question offers a light touch, at the heart of our survey is some hard data – crunched by our partners at MindField Group, who scoured the province’s corporate landscape for new participants, administered the survey and offered an invaluable analysis of the results. Employers and employees alike filled out surveys with multiple-choice questions, and responses were grouped in four broad categories: talent systems, employee engagement, leadership dynamics and organizational culture. The results were given different weight to determine final rankings, with employee input counting for 70 per cent of the final score, the employer survey counting for 20 per cent and the employee participation rate counting for 10 per cent.

As you’re reading this, we’re hard at work preparing for next year’s survey, so if you think your company deserves a spot on the 2010 list, visit bestcompanies.ca for more information on how to participate. And good luck.