Cool Companies A company that runs together stays together. Or so is the case at J.G. Wentworth. The New Jerseybased financial services company, with offices in Philadelphia and Fort Lee, N.J., sent 29 of its then 250 employees on an all-expenses-paid trip to run in the Los Angeles Marathon in March 1999 and 20 employees to compete in the London Marathon in April 2000. In 2001, the company expects to send about 40 runners to the Prague Marathon.

Top performers train each day (often before work and on weekends) and earn a point for each mile they run in qualifying races. To rack up the 120 points they need to get the free trip, employees have run in 5K, 10K, and relay races around the country, as well as marathons in New York, San Francisco, and Vermont.

Michael Goodman, J.G. Wentworth's executive vice president and COO (and a marathon runner), views the marathons as an incentive, as well as possibly his company's most successful training program. "In business, we look for people who want to be here for the long term, and doing a good job takes consistency," he says. "So there's a real tie-in--those who've had success in the marathon training program have wound up with success in the office."- --Alisa Wolf

Our Readers' Top Picks Once a year, Corporate Meetings & Incentives' readers vote in our annual Paragon Awards for the hotels, resorts, and conference centers they recommend for meetings and training. Editor Barbara Scofidio congratulated winners during at the International Association of Conference Centers meeting in Atlanta earlier this year. Shown here, Dan Marks, vice president of marketing, Hayes Mansion Conference Center. Also accepting awards were: Colin Ankersen, Hamilton Park-A Dolce Conference Hotel; Scott Stuckey, Marriott Hickory Ridge Conference Center; Gerard Dumont, Lansdowne Resort; Diane Rosenthal, Oak Brook Hills Resort and Conference Center; and Bob Nelson, the Woodlands Conference Center and Resort.

* THE BOTTOM LINE More Training Equals More Profit, Says Study

Is there a relationship between training and your company's financial returns? A new study from the American Society for Training and Development suggests that there just might be.

The survey of 575 U.S.based publicly traded firms found that those companies that invested more in training during 1996, 1997, and 1998 improved their total shareholder return the following year by six percentage points (even after compensating for other factors).

Firms in the top quarter of the study group invested an average of $1,595 per employee for training, while those in the bottom quarter invested $128 per employee. Research results showed that companies who invested more enjoyed 24 percent higher gross profit margins than those who invested less.

Conference Centers: Did You Know? For a conference center to become a member of the International Association of Conference Centers, it must meet numerous criteria (a full page's worth) that ensure it provides a serious, dedicated learning environment.

Among them:

* A minimum of 60 percent (based on net area) of meeting space must be dedicated, single-purpose conference space.

* Conference rooms must be available on a 24-hour basis.

* Dedicated conference rooms must be separated from living and leisure areas.

* A minimum of 60 percent of total sales must be generated from conferences. (If a conference center is ancillary to a resort or convention hotel, a minimum of 70 percent of the total sales of the conference center must be generated from conferences.)

* It must offer a package plan (known as a CMP, or complete meeting package) that includes conference rooms, guest rooms, three meals, continuous refreshment service, conference services, and audiovisual.

* Average group size should be about 75 people.

* SALES TRAINING The Great Leap Online Between April 1999 and April 2001, sales training will take a gigantic leap from the classroom to the computer screen. So say executives from 102 companies nationwide in a recent survey by the Forum Corp., a Boston-based consultancy. Respondents said that they expect Internet/intranet training hours to increase a staggering 500 percent and CD-ROM training hours to increase more than 300 percent.

Nevertheless, most companies still expect more hours of training will be face-to-face than face-to-computer, with 43 percent of total training hours spent in the classroom vs. 24 percent online and 13 percent with CD-ROMs.

Survey results also showed that "leaders," those companies that delivered an above-average amount of computer-based training in 1999, expect to deliver 33 percent of training online in 2001, vs. 20 percent for "laggards."