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Image: Andy Potts

Tired of bad coffee, bad bosses and a greenish, fluorescent-light-induced pallor? Quick—scour your hard drive for that résumé and take a sick day to spruce it up, because Portland’s hottest companies are recruiting. Get lucky enough to land an interview with one of these 12 fast-growing firms, and you’ll see firsthand how they’re changing the way Portland works, offering on-site preschools for your kids, nap breaks (for you) and offices that are so environmentally friendly you’ll feel like you’re saving the world just by showing up for work. Snagging a coveted place at one of their ergonomically designed workstations isn’t easy, but put some serious effort into your statement of intent and you could be one of the lucky ones: a revolutionary worker driving the city’s future.

Innovative Spaces

When budget and function usurp form and fun in office-space design, the results can be dreary at best. Walking down narrow halls past rows of closed doors is hardly motivating; even worse is spending your days ensconced in a taupe-colored cubicle sea. Which is why some savvy employers have ditched the old-school office model and invested in stylish surrounds—an expenditure they say is worth every cent. Not only does smart design attract smart applicants, but inspired spaces boost morale—and, significantly, the bottom line. From breaking down the doors and creating collaborative studios to building solar-powered workstations (yes, solar power is an option in cloud-shrouded Portland), these companies prove that giving employees a space they love also can boost their business.

 

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The space may be open, but Coaxis’ acoustic ceiling panels mitigate noise, while triple-glazed windowpanes practically eliminate sounds from the street.


h2. Coaxis


Business: Software development and management company
Location: 1515 SE Water Ave, Ste 300
Employees: 1810
1-yr Job Growth: 16%
Hiring: Application support, software developers
Contact: www.coaxis.net


Coveted views like the one from Coaxis’s third-floor office along the Eastbank Esplanade might normally be reserved for the boss. But here, the premium vista belongs to everyone. From ergonomically designed workstations bedecked with bamboo plantings, employees gaze out through a “solar glass wall” that traps or releases heat from the office in response to the temperature outside—and provides glimpses of the Willamette River and the cityscape beyond. “During the Rose Festival,” says founder and CEO Jay Haladay, “we all gathered here and watched the dragon boat races go by.”


It’s a very different environment from the one employees inhabited seven months ago. Then, Haladay’s quickly growing company, which designs computer systems for the food-and-beverage and construction industries, was stationed in an uninspired brick building in Tigard. But by partnering with architecture and engineering firm Group Mackenzie (with the support of the Portland Development Commission), Coaxis transformed the dilapidated Holman Transfer Building into the RiverEast Center. Not only have Coaxis’s workstations been upgraded, but the formerly industrial property is also now landscaped with rock filtration basins and native plants that capture and treat rainwater. In addition, by creating pathways along SE Clay St, the company created public access to this section of the Esplanade for the first time. “When I see people coming to work on their Rollerblades,” Haladay nods, “I know I made the right decision.”


Currently awaiting the U.S. Green Building Council’s second-highest rating for sustainably constructed buildings, the RiverEast Center uses 51 percent less energy than the average building its size. But that doesn’t mean it skimped on technology. Employees can reserve meeting rooms on-site via “room wizards,” computers plugged into the company’s main server that alert everyone as to which facilities are open or booked. Large, flat-screen televisions are stationed in public spaces not only for company presentations, but also for Blazer-game viewing parties. And a training center rigged with digital conferencing equipment allows Coaxis to instruct clients up and down the West Coast on how to use its software. Plus, the space brims with artistic touches like colorful, stained-glass meeting tables.


Haladay hopes the office will attract fresh talent: “I joke about putting a sign on the building facing the Hawthorne Bridge: ‘Now Hiring!’” So far, word of mouth has been advertising enough.


Policies & Perks:


Health insurance premium: 70%. Hours per week required for benefits: 24. Retirement plan: 401(k): 25% match up to 15% of salary. Vacation days: 1-4 years, 16 days; 5-9 years, 21 days; 10-14 years, 26 days; 15+ years, 31 days. Yearly turnover rate: 8.5%. Vision/ dental plans, formal flex-time policy, subsidized commuting, subsidized continuing education, and fitness facilities/ discounts.


 


 

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Opsis employees work primarily by natural light; if it gets too bright or warm, sun shades lower automatically.





Opsis


Business: Architecture firm
Location: 920 NW 17th Ave
Employees: 40
1-yr Job Growth: 23%
Hiring: Retaining résumés for architects and interior designers
Contact: www.opsisarch.com


Through 19 skylights, sunshine penetrates deep into the 10,000-square-foot studio, where staff architects—including the three founding principals—sketch at their desks in the glow. Over partitions just three-and-a-half feet high (kept low to encourage collaboration), colleagues debate blueprints and share tile samples.


“If you’re a Type A personality, it’s pretty exciting,” says principal James Meyer of the open work environment. Even conference rooms forgo the standard four walls in favor of just two, because as Meyer can attest, “When you see and hear everything, you learn much more quickly from each other.” In fact, Opsis is so open that most of the doors in the second-story office are ones that have been recycled into desktops.


In 2003, the eight-year-old firm renovated its historic 1910 building into one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the Northwest. At Opsis, hot and cold water run through pipes in the cement floor, providing radiant heating and cooling. Ceiling lights dim or brighten automatically depending on the availability of sunlight; many workstations are powered by solar panels on the roof; and windows open automatically to flush out any stale air.


Currently the company is designing what is expected to be one of the nation’s greenest neighborhoods: 32-acre Pringle Creek in Fairview. It’s no wonder the firm hasn’t had time to execute its own plans: Opsis wants to add a third and fourth floor made of lightweight steel and glass and take its open-model studio to the next level.


Policies & Perks:


Health insurance premium: 100%. Hours per week required for benefits: 20. Retirement plan: 401(k): Annual profit share starting at 3% of salary. Vacation days: 0+ years, 14 days. Yearly turnover rate: 20%. Vision plan, domestic partner benefits, subsidized continuing education, and fitness facilities/ discounts.


Umpqua

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At Umpqua, anyone (not just account holders) can enjoy the bank’s sleek, living-room-like digs and free Wi-Fi.


Business: Banking
Location: 1139 NW Lovejoy and across Portland
Employees: 127 at 21 branches across the metro area
1-yr Job Growth: 8%
Hiring: Universal associates
Contact: www.umpquabank.com


“People walk by our store and they see the word ‘bank,’ but visually it doesn’t register as a bank,” says Lani Hayward, a creative strategist. “They slow down and wonder, What is that?


Breaking out from banking’s stereotypically conservative interiors with tellers who stand behind plexiglass booths all day, Umpqua—headquartered in Portland—opened its first “Next Generation Store” in the Pearl District in 2003. Here, store employees called “universal associates” cash customers’ checks from a marble concierge desk; walk through a sleek, cafélike space to lead clients to free Wi-Fi stations; and introduce visitors to retail merchandise like CDs—all part of the company’s philosophy that a bank should also serve as a community gathering space.


Within the past year, Umpqua has taken that philosophy further by opening two new “Neighborhood Stores,” in Beaumont and downtown. These smaller hubs debut interactive walls with radio-frequency identification, or RFID, technology. If a customer picks up a pamphlet on home loans, a tag embedded into the pamphlet will prompt a video tutorial on loan applications to appear on a flat-screen monitor.


But its most community-oriented store to date will open in South Waterfront in 2008: Highlights include a virtual help desk and interactive tours of the city, which may help the company dispense with banking’s stodgy reputation for good.


Policies & Perks:


Health insurance premium: 100%. Hours per week required for benefits: 30. Retirement plan: 401(k): 50% match up to 6% of salary. Vacation days: 1-4 years, 10-20 days; 5-14 years, 15-20 days; 15+ years, 20 days. Yearly turnover rate: 5.5%. Vision/dental plans, subsidized commuting, subsidized continuing education, and fitness facilities/ discounts.