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Central Perks

In Silicon Alley, there's always a free lunch -- plus Aeron chairs and massages.

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Employees at the silicon Alley-based digital-design consultancy Razorfish don't know what they're sitting on -- literally. "Is that what it is?" asks marketing director Toby Usnik, referring to the $750 mesh Herman Miller Aeron chairs the company bought for almost every one of their more than 200 New York "Fish." Sometimes, employees say, the status-symbol seats even double as high-design scooters for sneaker-powered races across the SoHo office's wooden floors. That is, of course, when the programmers and designers aren't taking a break to play with the actual scooters the company provides on every floor.

The vehicles may be fun, but they're also meant to prevent another kind of motion -- from Razorfish to other new-media companies across the Alley. As New York's Internet economy expands, a growing number of firms are chasing a limited amount of talent with increasingly odd, even outlandish perks. "Finding and keeping people is more of a problem on the Internet than it has been in any industry at any time," says Henry Blodget, a senior analyst at Merrill Lynch who covers the online business. The nationwide nerd crunch is particularly acute in New York, which is still playing catch-up with the pocket-protected pool of talent in San Jose.

The interactive ad agency Organic offers free in-house yoga instruction and professional massages several times a week. One of its competitors, Agency.com, sponsors a "volunteer university" that presents in-office classes on subjects including cooking, juggling, and architecture. And Razorfish has considered offering new Volkswagen Beetles to employees who help recruit a certain number of new workers.

Stock options are a given, of course -- as are basics like comp days and catered or delivered meals. "You can't even sit down at the table without offering the perks," says Kyle Shannon, chief creative officer of Agency.com. "It's almost as if the stuff that used to be on top of the salary is now part of the salary."

In true high-tech tradition, many of the benefits are aimed at making the office -- as well as the job -- a more pleasant place to be. "You'll just leave if you're not treated well," says Jason Tors, a 25-year-old junior designer at Organic who enjoys "Bagel Wednesdays" because "I love breakfast and I love not having to scrounge up an egg sandwich at a deli." This summer, Razorfish hired a Mister Softee truck to provide the entire staff with free banana splits. On Halloween, Organic closed at 2 p.m. for a burrito-and-tequila party that included a jack-o'-lantern-making contest for which each team received a carving budget.

"The difference between Aeron chairs and non-Aeron chairs for us was literally $200,000, so I'd rather buy cake for these people," says Shannon. On "Beer Fridays," he says, the mail-room staff buys enough beer to fill four refrigerators.

Often, these little things do make a difference, according to Tors. "If I were looking for a job, and it was a choice between free beer or no free beer, it wouldn't necessarily be the deciding factor," he says. On the other hand, "Maybe I would feel like they cared just a little less."


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