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Top Jobs for Tough Times

With the economy weakening and the unemployment line growing, we searched for—and found—some good news: local employers who aren’t just surviving the current economic malaise but thriving, hiring, and treating their employees right

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Largest provider of health care in Illinois

As an aging U.S. population requires ever more medical care—and many health care workers over 50 start to leave the work force—the shortage of nurses and other medical pros only figures to worsen. “We’ve got labor shortages,” says Caryn Stancik, spokesperson at the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, which represents 96 hospitals and tracks area health care trends. The council says there is a shortfall of physicians, technicians, and other medical personnel, but the lack of nurses may be greatest of all. Only about 1,500 new nurses enter the local market each year, Stancik says, well short of the 4,500 needed.

With more than 200 facilities across the Chicago area—including Lutheran General, Bethany, Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and South Suburban Hospital—Advocate is grappling with those labor shortages while continuing to grow. In 2009, it expects to complete a new eight-story, 191-bed patient facility for the Park Ridge-based Lutheran General. In 2007, Advocate added a $45-million surgical pavilion to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and upgraded operations at Chicago’s Trinity and Barrington’s Good Shepherd hospitals. A not-for-profit, Advocate has maintained a healthy “AA” rating with the major bond rating agencies throughout its growth spurt—proof of the company’s financial health.

HELP WANTED: Every month, Advocate typically fills between 500 and 700 positions locally, mostly openings for nurses, technicians, and other medical staff.

PERKS AND BENEFITS: Advocate’s employee vacancy rate—the number of jobs unfilled—stands at 3.4 percent, says Ben Grigaliunas, senior vice president of human resources. That’s below the rate in excess of 5 percent at other major Chicago-area medical centers, and a sign that Advocate stands up well against its peers as an attractive place to work. The company pays above the market rate and offers a 401(k) plan, pension plan, and health care benefits.

OTHER OPPORTUNITIES: Medical providers elsewhere in Chicago are also looking to fill crucial jobs, especially nursing positions, which pay a median $60,000, according to Salary.com. Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, University of Chicago Hospitals, and Resurrection Health Care are all hiring.

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Produces The Oprah Winfrey Show and other Oprah-themed media and entertainment products

In an age when many media companies are reeling, Oprah Winfrey’s is living its best life. Sure, the audience for the company’s flagship program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, has shrunk a bit in the past few years, but the show remains a ratings juggernaut, delivering Oprah’s New Age-y message of personal empowerment to about 7.3 million daily viewers—the most in talk TV. Meanwhile, the company has steadily extended the Oprah brand into other businesses, including film (features and made-for-TV movies), additional TV programming (the recent reality show Oprah’s Big Give and prime-time specials), print (O magazine and O At Home), radio (Oprah and Friends on XM), the Web (Oprah.com), and even retail (the Oprah Store, adjacent to Harpo Studios in the West Loop). Next up: a cable TV channel, set to debut in 2009.

HELP WANTED: All those ventures have continued to drive growth at Harpo, where revenues climbed from $290 million in 2005 to $345 million last year, and total employment swelled from 341 at the end of 2005 to 430 at the end of last year, much of that growth at Oprah.com. The pace of hiring is “absolutely” continuing in 2008, says Tenia Davis, director of human resources. Harpo recently had about 15 positions available—mostly for Web site staffers and TV production personnel. The company offers paid internships that often are a springboard into entry level jobs there. As for the cable channel, Harpo is gearing up for the launch next year of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, in partnership with Discovery Communications. The search is now on for a chief executive to run the network, to be followed by other top executives and the remaining staff. The company has not said where the operation will be located.

PERKS AND BENEFITS: Being part of one of the most powerful brands in entertainment is one of the psychic rewards of working at Harpo. More measurable perks include a comprehensive benefits package, an on-site spa and gym, $5 lunches in the cafeteria, and a generous 4 to 11 weeks of paid vacation. Then there are the extravagant gifts Oprah lavishes on her staff. Two years ago, for example, she treated all full-time employees and their families to a week’s vacation in Hawaii.

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World’s largest futures exchange, operating the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade
EMPLOYEES: 2,000 in Chicago area

The spawn of an $11-billion merger between the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, CME Group is a global trading powerhouse with designs on establishing its presence in every major and emerging financial center. Recently the company spent about $9.5 billion to acquire the New York-based rival Nymex Holdings, which runs the New York Mercantile Exchange. The deal must still be approved by shareholders and regulators.

There’s no doubt the Loop-based CME is changing with the times. The company has mostly abandoned its “open outcry” method of trading in favor of computer-based transactions worth billions. It is also exploring new product areas and spreading into new countries. This year it acquired 10 percent of a Brazilian exchange and is expected to partner with other foreign companies.

HELP WANTED: People with the right technical skills and business savvy could find the CME a welcoming place. The company job board recently listed postings for more than 70 Chicago-based workers, the vast majority calling for advanced programming skills, information technology expertise, or financial strategy and planning skills.

PERKS AND BENEFITS: CME’s estimated 2,000 employees enjoy competitive pay, annual incentive bonuses, and perks such as parental leave, an adoption incentive program, and employee assistance efforts, including legal, personal, and child or elder care counseling. Like most emerging Internet or cutting-edge tech players, CME offers stock options to employees with at least three years’ tenure and discounts on CME stock to all employees.

STOCK WATCH: CME has not avoided the bloodletting among financial stocks this year—as of early May, shares were down 32 percent from their 52-week high. Still, its business is booming: In 2007, earnings of $658.5 million were up 61.7 percent over those of the previous year.


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