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Best Places to Work Awards Honor ‘Family’ Atmospheres

By Mary Thayer Haugen | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 08.14.17

What makes a business a great place to work? It is simply about pay? Or does it involve “lifestyle” attributes like flexible work schedules and employee cooking contests?

The Frederick County Best Places to Work awards seek to recognize innovative, creative and forward-thinking employers, and while this year’s winners come from various business sectors and vary in size, they all seem to share a similar attribute: a family-like atmosphere.

“We’re looking at businesses that create a culture where people want to work and stay,” says Patty McDonald, manager for business, employee and training programs at Frederick County Workforce Services.

The awards are based on a variety of criteria that goes beyond employee compensation and benefits. “Employee turnover is one of the metrics we look at. If that number is low, it’s an indication that business is doing something positive that retains people,” McDonald says.

The Best Places to Work campaign is a joint program between Workforce Services, the Frederick County Office of Economic Development, the City of Frederick Department of Economic Development and the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. The awards are divided into categories based on the number of employees. The winners this year include: Thurmont Child Care Center; ImQuest BioSciences; MainSpring; DynPort Vaccine Company; and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.


Thurmont Child Care has family woven throughout the company. Kathy Toomey started her business 30 years ago on a few acres carved out of her father’s orchard. She feels very strongly about the role good child care plays in a child’s life and she takes that role very seriously. The teachers at her center use Frederick County’s early-childhood curriculum so the children will be ready for kindergarten on “day one.”

She also understands the importance of consistency in a young child’s life and doing what it takes to retain good workers.

The first women she employed are not blood relatives, but they are family now. “I have zero turnover, which is not typical for child care,” Toomey says. “We’ve all grown up in the business together and our kids have grown up together—and now their kids. It’s just an extremely strong team and family atmosphere.”

Toomey has always put a priority on the kids—everybody’s kids. When an employee needs off to go on a field trip or pick up a sick child, she works around it. “We are very aware of how important those things are. I do everything I can to make it work for everyone. I’m still in here every day. I still clean every day,” she says.

“I recently heard a second-generation client telling someone we are a family. That meant a lot to me. That’s why it’s so nice to get this award,” she adds. “Even after 30 years, we all still love our jobs.”


ImQuest BioSciences carries out research to help biotech and pharmaceutical companies develop new products such as drugs to prevent infectious diseases. For a company that deals in such serious matters as cancer, HIV, MRSA and Zika, you might be surprised to discover their lighter side.

“We have 15 employees, so we all multi-task,” says Bob Buckheit Jr., company president. “Some of us have worked together since 1989. We have a very loyal group of members who started this company in 2004.”

In addition to the tight-knit community atmosphere, there are other pluses such as having a fitness trainer come in at lunch twice a week. The social fabric is strengthened by outings to sporting events, monthly “Bio Beer” get-togethers, chili cook-offs and cookie contests.“We like to promote some friendly competition. Everybody seems to really enjoy that,” Buckheit says.

“We all work very hard for important causes, so it’s fun to kick back and enjoy each other on a social level. Frederick is a fantastic place to hang out and do that,” he adds.


MainSpring is a strategic consulting company that helps businesses with the issues and challenges of implementing information technology. The company started in 1993 with three people in the basement of a house in Montgomery County. Today, it employs 62 people and recently moved its headquarters to Frederick.

That move was a nod to its employees. “Five out of the eight people who work at the main office live in Frederick,” says Marshall Micheals, CEO.  “They are younger and have young families. For them, it was a question of quality of life and how it affected their families. So, when our lease was up, we moved to Frederick.”

In addition to what Micheals describes as a “generous compensation package” (which includes paternity leave), he also encourages his employees to have a voice. “I truly do want my employees to speak up if they see something wrong or that could be done better. A lot of businesses pay lip service to that, but we have processes in place to enact it. I believe truly having a say in your job goes a long way toward quality of life,” he says.


DynPort Vaccine Company develops vaccines and therapeutics for different federal agencies like the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. It is a subsidiary of CSRA, located in Virginia.

“We generally work on infectious diseases,” says Gary Nabors, CEO. “But we also work on some biological products. One we’re working on now is to protect soldiers against nerve agents that might be used on the battlefield—not very nice to think about, but important to have.”

Like some of the other award winners, many of the employees at DynPort have worked together for years and have supported one another through difficult times. But they also enjoy unwinding and having a bit of fun together. “We have a very active social committee that takes suggestions and plans events throughout the year,” Nabors says.

The committee arranges a variety of activities, from indoor golf tournaments to “Grill Out” days, where employees enjoy a bit of summer fare and outdoor time. “We are very lucky to have the feeling of working at a small company with the support that comes from working for a larger business,” says Nabors. “If we were all working in some giant building somewhere, I’m not sure the business would have the same look and feel to it.”


The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has been around since 1939. It is the largest community of pilots and aviation enthusiasts in the world, according to Mark Baker, president and CEO.

It advises its members on all things aviation, from mechanical maintenance to medical practices relating to pilot certification. AOPA offers its members insurance and aircraft financing, and it informs them on a variety of industry topics, including legal issues and Federal Aviation Administration matters.

While it has more than 250 employees, they are all tied together with one thread—a love of aircraft. “We all have a shared passion for aviation,” says Baker. “Almost everyone who works here either has their pilot’s license or is working toward a license.” (Free flying lessons, by the way, are among the perks of working at AOPA.)

“We’ll do weekend ‘fly outs’ and Frederick Keys games with a picnic dinner. We host groups like the Boy Scouts and do ‘Wings and Wheels’ featuring classic cars and planes. And then sometimes we’ll host a free aviator movie out in the hangar and fill up the place with popcorn,” Baker says.

“We want to create an atmosphere with a positive spin,” he adds. “You might as well have fun while you’re working.”

For more information about the awards, visit

Frederick Magazine