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  • Writer's pictureAnne Nymark Team

Amgen’s arrival shows how Tampa’s corporate landscape is evolving

By Richard Danielson

TAMPA — Pharmaceutical giant Amgen formally opened its new office in West Shore Monday, and much about the operation — from how it chose Tampa to what it has created here — speak to the ways the Tampa Bay area is changing.

The California-based multinational picked Tampa last year after narrowing its search from an initial list of 388 metro areas.

In new offices at Corporate Center One and Corporate Center Three on the outskirts of International Plaza, Amgen’s staff in Tampa totals about 300, most of them local hires, but some transfers from California. Over time, it expects to employ up to 400 to 450 staffers in finance, information systems and human resources.

But it’s not like a visitor could tell at a glance who does what.

Like TransferWise, another company that has expanded into Tampa, Amgen’s work space is open, with workers setting up where they want to work and dressing how they need to dress that day.

"Our joke is, ‘My office is always open,’ because no one has an office," Michael Frankel, Amgen’s head of global business solutions for Tampa, said during a ceremony marking the company’s arrival.

After a $25 million investment, the new capability center has glass-walled focus rooms for sensitive phone calls and work requiring no distractions, a no-talking-please library for quiet work, conversation nooks with couches and easy chairs and darkened rooms where employees prone to migraines — Amgen is about to come out with a new migraine drug, so it’s been thinking about the problem a lot — can work or recover in low light.

In the large work spaces, there are acoustic ceiling tiles with white noise machines behind them emitting a low hum that keeps conversations in one part of the work space from becoming too noticeable in other parts.

With employees who speak a total of 16 languages, the Tampa operation will be an important base for a company with a market capitalization of nearly $127 billion and a presence in 120 countries.

"Being three time zones closer to Europe makes life a lot easier for our European colleagues who don’t have to get on conference calls nine time zones away with their colleagues in California," said Judy Gawlik Brown, Amgen’s senior vice president for global business solutions and finance.

That proximity to Europe and Latin America was one of four reasons the company chose Tampa, Frankel said. The others were:

• The availability of talent. The company has looked to recruit from, among other places, the University of South Florida and MacDill Air Force Base, hiring more than 20 MacDill veterans so far, three of them for its leadership team.

• The bay area’s quality of life.

• The presence of other companies — Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson,

Citigroup and USAA — doing what it’s doing.

"That tells us this is a good market for this type of work," Frankel said.

Amgen is the third major pharmaceutical company to pick Tampa or Hillsborough County for a capability center in recent years.

In 2013, Bristol-Myers Squibb announced a decision to open a 70,000-square-foot facility in Hillsborough for nearly 600 employees averaging $65,000 in annual wages.

Its incentive package totalled about $6 million — $2 million of that from Hillsborough County — paid out over several years on the condition that it created all of the promised jobs.

Two years later, Johnson & Johnson picked Tampa for a 500-employee office to handle corporate services that include finance, human resources and information technology.

Johnson & Johnson’s incentives package totalled $6.37 million, with $1.47 million coming from the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County. Those incentives hinged on the company creating the agreed-upon number of jobs with salaries averaging at least $75,000.

Unlike those first two companies, however, Amgen received no state or local incentives.

That’s how economic development is meant to work, said Craig Richard, the president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit business recruitment organization that gets about a third of its budget from local government.

"You typically pay heavier incentives when you’re trying to create a new industry or create something that wasn’t there before," he said.

As a cluster of companies in a particular industry comes together, the community reaches "a tipping point where companies see the value of and the benefit of being here," Richard said. Suppliers and contractors serving the industry likewise begin to form a critical mass, further strengthening the overall environment.

"That’s a good example of how incentives were used to prime the pump," Richard said. "Hopefully, as we become even more attractive to life sciences companies, health care companies, there won’t be a need for massive incentives. It’s not meant to be something that goes on and on forever and ever."

Local and state officials said Tampa’s business climate and sometimes quirky diversity should make Amgen feel at home.

"You speak 16 languages here in this office," City Council member Mike Suarez said, but in Tampa there is also "Spanglish, and there is ‘West Tampa English,’ which you don’t know about yet, but which you may discover."

"This is a place where business comes," Suarez said. "It is a place where business is done. We appreciate the fact that you selected this international city to put your international company."

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