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Governor Helps to Dedicate Amgen Lab : Thousand Oaks: At $50-million research facility, Wilson says visit underscores commitment to small business.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Amgen scientists gave Gov. Pete Wilson a science lesson Tuesday as he donned a lab coat and toured a biotechnology laboratory at the dedication of the Thousand Oaks company’s new $50-million research facility.

After examining tiny protein crystals through a microscope and listening to a brief explanation of molecular structures, the governor stepped out of the lab and into a more comfortable position--in front of an audience of 1,800 Amgen employees.

“I can hardly wait to call my 92-year-old father and tell him that I’ve been looking inside molecules,” Wilson quipped. “He’ll say, ‘Son, I told you you shouldn’t drink in the morning.’ ”

Wilson told the employees that his visit to Amgen’s headquarters underscores a commitment to small business in California.

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“We need to help small businesses grow and not snuff them out,” he said. “Because when they grow, they become Amgen.”

Amgen was founded in Thousand Oaks in 1980 and is now the largest independent biotechnology firm in the world. The company reported annual revenues last year of $1.4 billion.

The new research building, which is on the perimeter of the company’s 100-acre property at the west end of the city, will create space for about 300 researchers and scientists and 150 support personnel, Amgen officials said.

The research performed in the new building may lead to treatments for a number of diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, Amgen officials said.

Scientist Timothy Ossland, who recently moved into the 185,000-square-foot building, gave Wilson a half-hour tour of the laboratories and demonstrated how the collection of computers, microscopes and robots work.

Ossland said he was still in awe of the new facility, especially when thinking back to 1981, the year he joined the company.

“When I first came here, we worked out of half of a small building,” he said. “What has happened in 13 years has been astonishing.”

After the tour, Wilson spoke from the ground floor of the building’s central atrium, where workers crowded around banisters, looking down from two upper levels.

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“I think it’s really exciting that he came here,” said Elizabeth Singer, a technician in the lab toured by the governor. “It’s nice to be recognized for what we do here and to be told that it’s important.”

In addition to recognizing the workers at the event, Wilson appointed Gordon Binder, Amgen’s chief executive officer, to a new state council on biotechnology. The council will help Wilson encourage growth of the biotechnology industry in California.

Several city officials who attended the event said they were pleased with the worldwide attention that Amgen has brought to the community.

They added, however, that the morning’s festivities would not affect the City Council’s scheduled debate on the company’s plans later that night.

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Amgen officials were expected to ask the City Council to approve the firm’s 25-year expansion plan, which would include the construction of several new buildings and the creation of 1,500 new jobs.

The proposal was rejected by the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission last month because some of the proposed buildings were considered too tall. But Ed Bjurstrom, project manager for the expansion, said he was confident that Amgen would reach an agreement with the council.

The council continued to debate Amgen’s proposal late into the night Tuesday.

The building dedicated Tuesday was built before the company’s long-term plans were completed and is one of several that have been under construction for the past year.

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At the ceremony, Wilson praised what he said was Amgen’s willingness to invest in the future.

“Growing and forward-thinking companies like Amgen are absolutely crucial to California’s future,” he said.


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