1. Business

A dozen reasons ASI keeps rating as a top place to work in Tampa Bay

American Strategic Insurance founder and CEO John Auer can rattle off numerous reasons his company surfaces as a perennial top workplace in Tampa Bay. But everything the company does is secondary, he says, to starting with the right employees. Everything hinges on hiring people who are predisposed to have a happy attitude. "There is no shortage of insurance companies out there. We just thought if we had happy people who had a good attitude then (customers) would prefer to deal with them," Auer said. "And it's more fun for all of us to be around a positive, happy group." His strategy is paying off. This marks the third time out of the last five years that employee surveys have elevated the St. Petersburg property insurer to No. 1 in the midsize category.

Other companies looking to emulate that kind of success, take note. Here are a dozen things that help make ASI stand out as a happy environment:

• Every worker receives a monthly bonus up to $240 when departments meet performance and efficiency goals.

• ASI covers 100 percent of employee medical insurance.

• Its 401(k) plan includes a 6 percent company match.

• The new headquarters includes a weight center and gym accessible seven days a week to employees and their families.

• The second building on its new campus — which will house sister company and fellow top workplace e-Ins — will have a day care center on the first floor when it opens Memorial Day weekend.

• To promote interaction, Auer eschewed architect recommendations and built out rather than building up. Each floor is 50,000 square feet, with an open flow to encourage cooperation. Many cubicle walls are low so people can interact more easily.

• Among office events this year: an Olympics-style contest with competition in categories like curling (rolling somebody in an office chair) and ribbon twirling. Auer credits his employees: "There are a lot of creative people around here who think of ways to have fun and break up the monotony."

• When agents from around the country visit ASI's office during an annual gathering, each department puts on a skit, with the winning skit getting rewarded.

• No favored parking based on executive titles. Instead, seniority rules when it comes to choice spots.

• ASI shows it cares about the bigger picture, from supporting organizations like the American Red Cross to the effort to go paperless most of the time in an industry known for pumping out an abundance of paperwork.

• An internal training program helps employees focus on skills they want to learn or improve upon.

• The Christmas holiday party — the one time a year everyone dresses up — is a mainstay. But the location keeps moving to bigger venues as the company grows. For next season, ASI booked St. Petersburg's Vinoy hotel.