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Monday, May 23, 2022

Shrinking Amgen

When Amgen Inc. a few months ago laid off 172 workers from its Thousand Oaks headquarters, it marked the latest in a string of local staff cuts. Over the last 15 years, Amgen – by far the largest company in Ventura County and a major source of high-paying jobs throughout the Valley area – has been slowly shrinking its local workforce while building up elsewhere. According to data given by the company to the Business Journal over the years, the biotech company in 2005 reported a local workforce of 7,000. Now it has 5,574. During the same span, the company increased its global workforce from 14,400 to 23,000. In other words, as the company was cutting its local roster by 20 percent it was growing its total employment by 60 percent. Another way of measuring it: The more than nearly 1,400 lost jobs, if put into one employer, would make that company the third largest private-sector employer in Ventura County. Amgen declined several requests for interviews. In an email to the Business Journal last week, a company spokeswoman did not address the reasoning behind the pullback in employment in Thousand Oaks. But she said the headquarters “remains a central hub for research and development, operations, as well as other essential business functions.” However, in 2017, after Amgen announced it would relocate 500 information technology and human resource employees to Tampa, Fla., it was quoted as saying that Tampa offered “high quality of living, affordable cost of living and the potential for growth.” “That was really a punch to the gut, locally,” said Matthew Fienup, executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University in Ventura County. “Tampa was doing a better job of cultivating conditions conducive to growth than Ventura County was. The environment was so much more favorable than it was here, that they were even willing to endure the cost of having to build a new facility and move employees.” Fienup also cited an economic conference held by the Ventura County Economic Development Association one year after the Tampa move, where executives from Haas Automation in Oxnard, Meissner Filtration and Amgen again pointed to a lack of affordable housing and limited potential for growth. While Amgen slowly shrunk, Ventura County’s economy has flatlined over the past four years, Fienup said. The economic stagnation was not solely due to Amgen’s shrinking footprint, but it is a contributing factor. A burgeoning biotech sector has filled that extra space, sometimes with former Amgen executives. Growing pains For Timothy Osslund, one of the first Amgen employees back in 1981, the shift from a local to global mindset is a natural progression for a company that started in a Thousand Oaks business park to become one of the heaviest hitters in the pharmaceutical industry today. “It’s just like kids; when they are born you love how cute they are, but as they grow and mature you certainly don’t want to have a 30-year-old adult with a 2-year-old personality. You want them to grow and develop. And that is where Amgen is now, and has been for a while.” Osslund had been with Amgen for 36 years, a structural biochemist who now teaches at California State University – Channel Islands. He calls Amgen’s Thousand Oaks headquarters an “oasis” compared to teeming biotech clusters in San Francisco and Boston. “One of the reasons why Amgen was founded in Thousand Oaks was to not be unduly influenced from the other local academic institutions such as CalTech, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara, among others. Even though we tapped into some of their greatest minds as members of our initial scientific advisory board,” added Osslund. “The double-edged sword of this is we were also independent. Amgen was the only biotechnology in town at the time. I was often asked why Amgen wasn’t in San Francisco or on the east coast in Boston. It was a challenge as a hiring manager and if I had a position, unless the applicant wanted to relocate, we had a very small group of candidates to pool from. If you recruited in either Boston or San Francisco, you would have many more applicants.” Currently, Amgen has 64 office locations across 49 countries. Ventura and Amgen The economic fortunes of Ventura County in the early 2000s, Fienup said, go hand-in-hand with Amgen’s growth during that period. “We often talk in Ventura County about the legs of the economic stool being Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, the agricultural industry and Amgen, right? You kick out any one of those legs and the stool is a lot less stable,” he explained. The economist measures Amgen’s effect on the economy through data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Biotechnology, according to the BEA, is part of the non-durable manufacturing sector. “Non-durable manufacturing’s share of total economic output in Ventura County grew from just 9 percent in 2002 to 29 percent in 2007,” Fienup said. “Non-durable manufacturing is almost entirely biotechnology, and biotechnology is largely Amgen, which is to say Amgen represented a very large share of the county’s total economic output, and peaked in 2007 at 29 percent.” Since 2007, the percentage of non-durable manufacturing in Ventura County has slipped to 19 percent, coinciding with Amgen’s shrinking footprint. Explosive growth also meant more large biotech companies setting up shop in the area to have access to the top talent in the industry, Fienup said. Baxter Bioscience is a perfect example, which was housed in Westlake Village before relocating its staff to Chicago. “This is a story that hits really close to home, because my wife moved out here in 2004,” said Fienup, so she could work for Baxter. Measurement error While reported numbers may tell us one thing, Fienup said, it may not show the whole picture of Amgen’s influence in the region. If Amgen uses a consultant on a project, or outsources campus services like its athletics facility or cafeteria, we would see that as a reduction in Amgen’s local workforce. But the jobs remain local. If Amgen invests in a startup company for research and development of a particular drug and then buys the technology at a later date, that wouldn’t show up on an employee count. “You would actually see those as reductions in Amgen employees even though it might have been the exact same person in the same job, but one week they’re an Amgen employee and the next they work for an outside company,” explained Fienup. “As categories shift, as hiring relationships change, it causes a lot of noise in the data. It’s hard to put too much emphasis on any single number.” There are also many former Amgen executives who have left the company to create biotech startups, among them Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Allergan in 2015 for $2.1 billion; Atara Biotherapeutics, which has Amgen as a founding investor; as well as more recent endeavors such as A2 Biotherapeutics and Arcutis Biotherapeutics, which went public in January. “We have seen some employees leave Amgen for expanded opportunities at startups. In some cases, we have witnessed others leave the area and then return to work in local startups,” David Piacquad, vice president of business development at Amgen, told the Business Journal in an email. “We even have a number of Amgen retirees who continue to be active in the startup community as consultants and board members. “I am often asked: ‘Is this good or bad for Amgen?’ While we hate to lose good people to other companies, we recognize that it is good for everyone to have a vibrant, local biopharma community.” The next Amgen Fienup believes there can be another Amgen success story in the Valley region, but it may not come from the biotech sector. “This was biotech because it was the brainchild of an individual who wanted to live equidistant between UC Santa Barbara and Cal Tech,” explained Fienup. “The next Amgen in Ventura County is actually the Trade Desk. It’s not a biotech company at all, it’s a technology company. The question is, who will the next Trade Desk be? It may not be a technology company, right? It might be something that we never imagined.” It may also prove difficult for the next Amgen to break through tightening state regulations and a “punishing tax regime,” Fienup said. “Ventura County’s track record of embracing innovation is very poor, especially in the last 15 to 20 years,” added Fienup. “If Ventura County hopes to seed the next Amgen, there needs to be a bottom-to-top reassessment of whether the conditions enable that innovation and the explosive growth that results from it. And a question for Ventura County is, do they even want another Amgen? And I’m not sure they do. “All you can do is … make conditions favorable for innovation and dynamic growth, and then wait and hope you’re lucky enough that another Amgen comes along,” he added.

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