Gary Wartik, economic development manager for Thousand Oaks, isn't worried about plans by his city's largest employer to relocate workers to Colorado.

After all, officials with Amgen, the world's biggest biomedical company, have steadfastly promised the city that they are committed to the area and won't relocate their headquarters elsewhere.

Still, losing even a small number of jobs hurts, Wartik said.

"That's not necessarily good news, but in this case the company has 8,000 full-time employees in Thousand Oaks right now and it continues to grow," said Wartik, who met with Amgen officials last week about the changes.

"We're not overly concerned. We've been in close contact."

Last month Amgen announced it would be moving an undisclosed number of administrative jobs to its 230-acre plant Longmont, Colo., over the next two years.

Company officials said the personnel shifts, which some have pegged at as high as 500, were prompted by overcrowding at the company's nearly 200-acre Thousand Oaks campus, which has housed the headquarters of the company since it was founded in 1980.

"Our ownership portfolio in Thousand Oaks is stable at this point," said spokeswoman Mary Oeffling, adding that there simply isn't enough space to grow much more.

The space crunch comes as Amgen tackles a building spree elsewhere, expanding its properties in South San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and the United Kingdom. Amgen is also spending an additional $2 billion on plants in Puerto Rico and Ireland.

All told, the growth translates to thousands of new jobs, none of which will go to Thousand Oaks.

Instead, the campus will keep its current capacity of about 8,000 staffers, Oeffling said. The plan is to move some jobs elsewhere and hire locally to fill the ranks, she said.

There is no plan for Amgen headquarters to relocate, Oeffling said. "We're not leaving Thousand Oaks," she said. "It's our corporate headquarters."

That said, the personnel shifts are the latest sign that Amgen's growth in coming years will occur largely outside of Thousand Oaks perhaps in places where land is cheaper and the cost of living is less.

Space crunch

Twenty-six years ago, a group of scientists was looking for a suitable rental space for their biotech start-up company, Applied Molecular Genetics Inc.

They wanted a location where land was cheap and housing was inexpensive, preferably one near several universities that could be tapped for talent.

They eventually decided on Thousand Oaks, then a tiny Ventura County town with roving sheepherders and a small manufacturing base.

Today, Thousand Oaks has a population of 125,000 and the little start-up has turned into a biotech giant with 16,500 employees in nine states and 30 countries.

The company has researched and developed a litany of therapeutic medicines to fight kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, among many other illnesses. Its most popular product, the anemia drug Epogen, brought in $6 billion in sales last year. Overall sales reached $12.4 billion last year.

In Thousand Oaks, Amgen's footprint now takes up 194 acres and 43 buildings, in addition to five leased buildings. The sprawling complex houses corporate and senior leadership, research and development operations and manufacturing.

Up until recently, Amgen added to the Thousand Oaks parcel frequently, adding 1,400 jobs since 2004. Over time, though, space started running out.

Today, Thousand Oaks has only about 100 acres of raw industrial space left, Wartik said.

Facing a space crunch at home, the company in March announced a major expansion outside of Thousand Oaks the conversion of five buildings on its South San Francisco campus. That project will add more than 500,000 square feet of research and development space by 2009, adding well over 1,000 new jobs.

Then, last month came news of the Colorado shift, the first steps by Amgen to relocate administrative positions human resources, information systems and finance jobs that could be done away from headquarters.

Amgen will not release how many employees will be transferred through 2008, but some estimates range as high as 500, Wartik said.

Amgen has been tight-lipped about its long-term expansion plans and Oeffling said the company is piecing together where it can grow.

The plan right now is that hiring would still occur at the corporate headquarters as Amgen grows globally, Oeffling said.

"That's why the city is comfortable with this," she said.

But she added: "Amgen continues to grow as a multi-site organization. More career opportunities will be available outside of Thousand Oaks."

Cheaper elsewhere

Amgen's moves to boost its portfolio outside its corporate birthplace may be prompted by the sheer cost of doing business and housing employees in Ventura County and Southern California.

Bill Buratto, president and CEO of the Ventura County Economic Development Association, said it makes sense that as Amgen grows it would start to look at cheaper places.

"Ventura County works very hard to make it attractive and profitable to be here," he said. "But we realize that we cannot always compete with other areas of the country and that businesses must make decisions that are in their best interest."

The high cost of living is another factor. For example, the average home price in Longmont, Colo., in 2004 was $241,811, according to the real estate website HomeInsight. The same house in Thousand Oaks fetched $565,771.

That factor weighs heavily because Amgen recruits nationally from a small pool of highly specialized talent. The disproportionate housing costs in Southern California can be an obstacle preventing talented staffers moving here, Wartik said.

"Our housing costs are some of the highest in the nation. "That's not a good thing," he said.

Of course, some well-paid recruits might be willing to sacrifice to live California.

"It's a pretty major part of their make-up being based in Thousand Oaks," said Christopher J. Raymond, an analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co., who follows Amgen closely.

He said that despite the high cost of living, Thousand Oaks is still a highly attractive place to relocate. It's one of the reasons he doubts Amgen would ever sever ties with Thousand Oaks.

"That's one of their recruiting tools. It's a great place to live," he said.
Not to mention that Amgen also has a lot riding on the area.

"They have a huge investment. They have 8,000 quality and qualified employees already here," Wartik said.

He said city officials are optimistic.

"The campus here in Thousand Oaks continues to grow despite the fact that some positions will be relocated," he said. "We have a pretty good sense of what they are."