No entrepreneur starts out intending to build a lousy culture, or even an average one. All leaders want work forces whose productivity is born of passion, whose loyalty springs from the perception of beneficence and fair play. Yet in the mad crush of business, many fail to invest in their employees: to develop their potential, reward their labors, and respect their personal lives. By contrast, the companies honored as 2010 Top Small Company Workplaces lavish on their staffs the care and consideration other companies reserve for their best customers. As a result, these honorees have proved uncommonly resilient during the recession and are reliable talent magnets in economies fair and foul. People come. They stick. They grow.

Building a great workplace is both a strategic decision and a moral one. The companies honored in these pages were selected by Inc.'s partner organization, Winning Workplaces, because they are successful in their industries and proudly trace that success to their cultures. CEOs are forever tossing metrics at their companies to judge how well run they are. High marks in employee satisfaction are the hallmark of best in class.