ERC’s NorthCoast 99 program annually honors 99 great workplaces for top talent in Northeast Ohio. Carrie Morse, Director of Partnerships at ERC, has been overseeing NorthCoast 99’s exclusive awards event for the last 13 of its 17 years.
“NorthCoast 99 is really about the application and the data that we are able to collect and share through the program. Organizations that apply for the award share a great deal about what they’re doing to attract and retain the best of the best, including their practices, their policies, and success stories,” says Morse.
The program is not about which companies have the coolest perks or the most modern workspaces, says Morse. Those things are important, but having the right practices that attract and retain top performers is what drives an organization forward economically.
”When an organization wins NorthCoast 99, it’s definitely something to celebrate; our winners work hard to get there!” And since its start, the program has always been free for organizations to apply.
“Each applicant organization receives a complimentary benchmark report that provides critical data as to how they compare to the other applicants. This allows each company to see where their organization may be strong and where they have opportunities to improve. It’s an amazing tool, and entirely complimentary. We have our sponsors to thank for that,” says Morse.
Many of the organizations who financially support NorthCoast 99 have been with the program since day one. They know what this program does for the local workplaces, and the thousands of lives the winners impact every day.
What makes the NorthCoast 99 awards event so unique?
“Ultimately, our winners make the event unique. They are SO excited to be there; they’re ready to celebrate and it shows. You can literally feel the excitement in the room. Knowing this going in, we don’t treat NorthCoast 99 like an awards banquet or a dinner. Instead, we treat it as a show; an experience for our guests,” says Morse.
Morse says the main goal of the program is to honor the winners, but in doing so, it’s important to also “wow” them.
“By going above and beyond on the special touches like staging and lighting, centerpieces that integrate with the theme, and a customized award lithograph each year, we’re able to do so. Most importantly, we pay special attention to the talent each year. It’s almost always a surprise to our guests, they never know who or what they’ll be seeing on our stage,” says Morse.
Memories from over the years
Morse has a handful of memorable experiences of planning NorthCoast 99 over the years.
“One highlight was meeting basketball legend Dick Vitale, who was our keynote several years ago. He barged through the front doors the afternoon of the event with his giant grin and yelled 'Where’s Carrie Morse?' I walked up to him, introduced myself and put my hand out to shake his. He threw his arms around me and planted a big kiss on my cheek. It was hysterical, and such a mood lightener to know how much fun he was going to be to work with,” says Morse.
Another event that stood out to Morse is the unique challenge of the 2009 event.
“It was on the heels of the 2008 economic downturn, and many local employers including our winners, were really in survival mode. The applications that year told stories of companies doing the right thing with their workforces and their companies under very difficult circumstance; treating people with respect, communicating, re-tooling, innovating; things that companies with strong leaders and involved managers are able to do,” says Morse.
“It was another kind of celebration that year and we had to embrace and honor these stories. We chose the theme of Pioneer and Persevere, and featured a keynote by a gentlemen named Chris Gardner. His story was portrayed in the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Academy Award Nominee Will Smith. He was an amazing fit for the audience; spoke right to them and got a standing ovation. It was heartwarming to see guests line up to shake his hand and say thank you for what he said. Our team knew we did something that really mattered to our guests and winners that night. It was awesome!”
However, out of all her memories of the program, Morse says the best one has to be working with the NorthCoast 99 committee every year.
“Pat Perry, President of ERC, challenges us to create something unique, memorable and fun year after year, and he’s always the first to jump in with the ideas that bring our event to life. It sets a great tone as our committee goes about our planning process. We have a lot of fun and laugh a ton.”
This year, the NorthCoast 99 awards event will be at Landerhaven on September 24th, and will be attended exclusively by winners and sponsors. “The stories we heard on this year’s applications will be brought to life on stage for our 800 guests. We can’t wait to share them and honor our 2015 winners,” says Morse.