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Best perks offered by Tampa Bay area companies

National title network

Fists full of dollars

Step one: Outperform your peers at work. Step two: Rub yourself down with an antistatic clothes dryer sheet. Step three: Grab yourself a fist full of dollars.

Few companies offer so unusual an employee perk as the cash machine at Oldsmar's National Title Network. The real estate company rolls out the $7,000 glass booth a couple of times a month to give top employees a 30-second chance to snatch cash bonuses from a cyclone of bank notes.

Up to $1,800 worth of bills swirl inside the booth. The record haul so far in this workplace variant of the shopping spree: $717.

"We like to do things strange and different," chief executive Paula Pautauros said. "It's hilarious. Everyone gathers around when we bring out the cash machine."

The perk demands fast finger work from employees. The dryer sheet rubdown ensures bank notes won't cling to clothes and hair. Collecting the luscious lucre through such backhanded means might cause static.

Busch gardens

Free tickets for workers

Working for Busch Gardens isn't an endless drudge of llama manure, candy-shop lollipops and loop-da-loop roller coasters.

With brewing behemoth Anheuser-Busch's departure from the theme park business — ownership that afforded employees two free cases of suds a month — a good perk these days has to be free tickets and passes.

Aside from free admission for employees themselves, workers get 12 tickets and four season passes for family and friends.

They cover not just the main park, but water park Adventure Island and Orlando's SeaWorld. Thanks to a reciprocal agreement, the Busch ID card also provides access to Universal Studios.

Busch Gardens has been through three owners in less than two years. Belgian brewer InBev bought Anheuser-Busch in 2008, only to spin off the theme parks to the Blackstone Group private equity fund last year. But even Blackstone won't tamper with the pass-o-rama.

"That's one of the keys to working here,"said human resources director Mike Kraskow.

Lazydays rv center

Camping at Disney

The economic slump has socked wages and commissions at Seffner's Lazydays RV Center. But nobody's messing with the free camping excursions to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.

How popular is the benefit among the RV center's 520 employees? Let's just say the camper is booked 52 weeks a year. Reservations are literally apportioned by monthly raffle.

"That's one thing that's really untouchable," executive Debbie Dube said of the perk dreamed up by the company's sales manager six years ago. Lazydays keeps the camper, called a "fifth wheel," in a prime spot at the Disney resort. Employees can walk to Fort Wilderness' attractions, including nightly campfires, the pool and the lodge.

The losers of the monthly raffles needn't despair. Lazydays also discounts employee stays on its own 300-site campground on 120 acres behind the Interstate 4 sales center.

Unlike the Disney resort, the Lazydays campground doesn't feature campfire sing-alongs by cartoon chipmunks Chip 'n Dale.

American strategic insurance corp.

Four-day outing

Hitting goals at this company means cruising to Cozumel or white-water rafting in Colorado. Not for a few — for the whole staff.

Nearly 100 employees took the St. Petersburg company up on the cruise offer last year. About 60 flew to Colorado for white-knuckled rapids the year before that.

The four-day perk requires some careful crafting. Employees get split into three outings, so work still gets done back home. The trips are scheduled for the spring, before all-hands-on-deck hurricane season. Even location counts: Texas and Colorado, sites of trips in 2006 and 2008, were expansion states for the property insurer.

Team-building is built in. Even on the easy-going cruise, which has alternated years with more adventurous outings, there's a scavenger hunt. Canoeing the Rio Grande and rafting the Arkansas River required camping.

"Sometimes it's kind of roughing it. You find out what a groover is," said Eric Peters, a senior claim representative for ASI Underwriters. (Hint: There aren't bathrooms in a forest.)

Home shopping network

Two days to do good

Can't carve out time for charity? There's no excuse at St. Petersburg's HSN.

The 24-hour cable TV shopping network gives its thousands of employees two days off a year to don their good-deed gear.

As they hoist soup kitchen ladles, mentor school kids or collect litter from beaches, the company covers their paychecks.

HSN established this perk-with-a-purpose in 1999. It started with one paid community service day each year and later expanded to two.

HSN employee Sarah Miller provides a sympathetic ear to a boy from Thurgood Marshall Middle School, part of the Mayor's Mentors & More program. She will follow him when he graduates next year to high school.

"Last week, we were talking about a social studies project. Then about sports he does after school," she said.

About half the company's 2,800 local employees volunteer for at least one community service day a year, human resources director Lisa Letizio said. For many, it becomes part of their lives outside work.

"They get out there and get hooked."

Accusoft Pegasus

Nearby fun, exercise

Software engineers spend their days crunching long lines of seemingly arid computer code.

So at Accusoft Pegasus, a Tampa imaging software company, an oasis is just a couple of doors away in the form of an in-house health club and game room.

Pool and foosball tables. Video games. DVD players. Treadmills. StairMasters. Weights. Showers. You'll find some of the company's 74 employees engaged in play before, during and after work.

These kinds of laid-back perks are standard issue in Silicon Valley and other high-tech corridors. Tampa-bound computing talent expects the same, Accusoft president Jack Berlin said.

"When you study these guys, they make a lot of money, but money isn't the first thing they're looking for," he said. "People have to get up and come in to work every day. They either want to do that or don't want to do that."

As part of his whistle-while-you-work philosophy, Berlin stocks each floor of his building with free soda, coffee and snacks. Consider it fuel for the free weights.

Capital one

Family matters

Capital One must like kids. Just ask Kevin Grindheim.

The global financial services giant, with 411 employees around Tampa Bay, offers employees $5,000 per child if they adopt. Grindheim has used the benefit. In spades.

After raising five biological children, the 49-year- old employee and his wife, Tammy, adopted seven boys with the help of the company. Dustin, Kyle and Travis were biological brothers from the United States. Michael was adopted from the Ukraine, Cole and Caleb from Russia, and Timmy from Kazakhstan.

The boyish brood are now all teenagers.

"The company's leadership has been completely supportive of our efforts in each of the adoptions," said Grindheim, who has worked for Capital One in Virginia for nine years.

The company isn't just about adoptions. Having trouble procreating? Capital One also forks over $10,000 for fertility treatments.


Affordable insurance

The politicos in Washington are whipping up a crisis of alleged health care unaffordability.

But health costs aren't a big problem for the 800 employees at T-Mobile's call center in New Tampa.

In an era when many firms are socking it to employees on health insurance premiums, T-Mobile workers with families pay just $53 every two weeks, or $1,378 a year.

That includes medical, dental and vision.

"We hear a lot about the price," human resources manager Staci Evans said.

Eligibility is lenient. You can start collecting benefits on the first of the month after 30 days of employment. Work 32 hours? No problem. You're still eligible for full-time benefits.

Employees with financial, emotional and substance abuse problems can access free counseling. For emergencies, there's a 24-hour toll-free line.

Said Evans: "We have people who try very hard to stay with the company because of the medical benefits."

Best perks offered by Tampa Bay area companies 03/21/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 21, 2010 1:00am]
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