Episode 47: It’s Always Sunny in Florida: Biotech Giant Amgen Builds Shared Services Center in Tampa
August 21, 2018
This week, we bring you the story of biotech giant Amgen and their decision to establish a shared service in Tampa, Florida. To gain insight into how this world-class company makes and implements site selection decisions, we spoke with Michael Frankel, Amgen’s Executive Director and Head of Global Business Services in Tampa. For the economic development perspective, we talked to Bea Bare, Senior Business Development Executive at the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.
Patience Fairbrother (DCI): Among the different industry clusters that cities and states focus on attracting, biotech companies are at the absolute top of the list.
Andy Levine (DCI): And among the different biotech companies that any community would like to attract, Amgen is at the very top of that list.
Patience: So, it was a real honor for us to talk with Amgen about their decision to set up a shared service center or a capability center in Tampa Florida, and to gain some insight into how this world class company makes and implements site selection decisions.
Andy: So welcome to Episode 47 of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions. I’m Andy Levine of Development Counsellors International.
Patience: And I’m Patience Fairbrother also with DCI and Andy’s co-host of “The Project.” We’re excited to bring you a great episode today, but before we jump into the Amgen move to Tampa story, we want to let you know about the search for the economic development profession’s best and brightest.
Andy: Yes. Our agency, DCI, has combined forces with Jorgensen Consulting, one of the ED world’s top executive search firms. And we’re sponsoring the fourth biannual 40 under 40 competition to select the profession’s rising stars.
Patience: If you will still be under the age of 40 on January 1st, 2019 like me, you’re eligible for consideration. Just go to econdev40under40.com, fill out a short application form and submit it by October 12th.
Andy: And if you are over the age of 40 like me, then we’d encourage you to nominate a younger colleague for the award. Simply go to econdev40under40.com and fill out a nomination form, detailing a few of their greatest accomplishments in the industry like a successful project or an innovative idea brought to life.
Patience: But don’t delay. Your application must be submitted by October 12th. Winners will be announced at the IEDC Leadership Summit in January 2019.
Andy: Okay. So let’s move on to our interviews for today’s episode.
Patience: So we actually split this one up. I interviewed Michael Frankel, Amgen’s Executive Director and Head of Global Business Services in Tampa. Michael was hired about a year ago for the specific role of starting up this new capability center.
Andy: And I interviewed Bea Bare, Senior Business Development Executive of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation. She’s been with the organization for 25 years and worked with dozens of companies. She served as the Lead Economic Developer on the Amgen project.
Patience: We’re going to start this one with Bea, who will tell us a bit about the start of the project, but will then be ping pong in between Michael and Bea to get a sense for the project.
Andy: I’m curious, how did you first come in contact with the company?
Bea Bare (Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation): Well, actually, it was their consultant who got in contact with us. It was Bain and Company and they contacted us with some, oh, I would say 30,000 foot level information about the project, and that was in January of 2016. And then in March, they actually told us who their client company was and we hosted the first of several site visits.
Andy: So, in March of 2016, that’s when you became aware that this was Amgen and obviously, in the pharmaceutical and the biotech space, this is a very well respected company. What was your reaction when you learned the company’s name?
Bea: We’ve got to reel this in. This is a natural for Tampa and given that Bristol Myers Squibb was the pioneer, if you will, in bringing the first shared service center to Tampa and making it very clear that they wanted to help us grow that industry sector. We wanted Amgen and we knew that it was going to be a good fit, but we needed to convince them that it made sense. They began by looking at over 300 communities and when we were contacted, they had narrowed that field down to 17 communities. So, we were still up against some very stiff competition.
Patience: The number of communities considered surprised us, so we asked Michael Frankel about that.
So, some of the news articles that reported on this project reported that there were over 400 cities, some said 388 cities, all evaluated for this service center. So that’s obviously a lot of cities. What were some of the key factors that you used to narrow the field to a more manageable number?
Michael Frankel (Amgen): So that approximate number is the number of metropolitan areas in the United States. So, generally speaking, when you apply a selection criteria or filters, you’re looking for a few key items. You’re looking at access and availability of talent. You’re looking for a favorable geography. You’re looking for a reasonable cost of living. And you’re looking for presence of other peers, industries, similar capabilities in the market you’re headed to. And it should be a great place to live, work, visit, et cetera.
Patience: So, let’s focus on the first piece that you mentioned which is the availability of talent. What stood out about Tampa in terms of its workforce capabilities and availability?
Michael: Tampa has a really nice mix of university grads. It has a large military base and a good veteran presence here. And then there is also several other shared service centers and capability centers, and there’s other biopharma here in Tampa. So, when I mix those groups together that’s exactly the pool that we’re looking for talent in for our center.
Patience: So I’d like to touch quickly a little bit more on the presence of military in the region and veterans. What aspect of that is attractive to Amgen in terms of the workforce that you are looking to hire?
Michael: So, there is a large base, MacDill Air Force Base, that’s very close to our center. We visited there before we opened our doors here. We did several recruiting fairs. They are graduating or several folks are being released or retired on a regular basis. They want to stay, live, work in the community. They’ve got excellent academic backgrounds, great training, and lots of relevant skills in IT, networking, various capabilities that we need here in the center.
Patience: So, in addition to that obviously, there is a big university presence in the region, University of Tampa, University of South Florida. How did the presence of those institutions play into the decision and did you meet with them as well in addition to the folks at the military base?
Michael: When you’re looking at a city and having done this several times, there’s usually a component of the site visit or the city visit when you meet with the universities. And that was ongoing since early on and we’ve maintained those relationships since we opened in Tampa.
Andy: Bea Bare spoke to us about one of those university meetings during an earlier site visit.
Bea: We met with some of the faculty at the University of South Florida and Amgen began talking about what kind of research they would be doing, what kind of work would be done here. And as they became comfortable in knowing each other, the people who were sitting across the table from each other, they began to relax a little more and then from there, the conversation became very intense. And by that, I mean, they connected, and the chemistry was there. And Amgen, you could feel it. It was palpable. I was just, you know, a fly on the wall in that room and I thought, “This is gonna work. This is going to work.”
Patience: Let’s go back to the next item on Michael’s list of criteria.
Another piece of the puzzle that you mentioned is the idea of a favorable geography and you mentioned the time zone. Can you touch on why Tampa for that specific category?
Michael: We’ve got various functions here in employee services, information systems, and finance. So, from a finance perspective, we’re in the same time zone as the major capital markets in New York. From a manufacturing perspective, we’re in the same time zone as two of our major plants. One in Rhode Island and one in Puerto Rico. We’re also three hours closer to some of our plants in Europe and Asia. So, from an Amgen perspective and even from an external perspective, it allows us to follow the sun a bit more, having a presence in the East Coast time zone as well as the West Coast time zone.
Patience: The final piece that Michael talked about was the presence of a biopharma cluster.
Tampa has seen a couple of different expansions over the last several years, Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson. When Amgen was looking at the presence of these other major biotech pharmaceutical companies in the region, did you see this as an advantage, you know, potentially a negative?
Michael: No. It’s seen as positive. And, you know, the example that I use is, it’s Silicon Valley. Most people know that that is a high tech area of the country. There is lots of high tech knowledge in that part of the country. So, having the biopharma presence in Tampa I think is great for the Tampa Bay community.
Andy: We asked Bea Bare about Tampa’s growing biotech cluster.
Bristol Myers Squibb came to Tampa in 2013, Johnson & Johnson came in 2015, and Amgen, of course, announced last year in 2017. Sort of every two year cycle, it looks like a huge major win.
Bea: We like that. We’re due for another one.
Andy: What’s behind the development of this cluster of pharma and biotech companies being attracted to the Tampa, do you think?
Bea: Amgen, you know, they completed that trifecta for us. You mentioned Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, and then to get Amgen in, oh my gosh. That really solidified that, yes, we are growing a cluster here that is critically important. So, it was important and it continues to be important to our community. And the great thing is that those three employers, they are competitors of each other but guess what, they get along just great here.
Patience: So, by way of quick review, the top three criteria for the decision were number one, access and availability of talent. Number two, a favorable location in relationship to Amgen’s other operations. And finally, three, a strong and growing biopharma cluster.
Andy: And those factors ended up bringing an estimated 450 Amgen jobs to the Tampa region.
Patience: One of the biggest challenges of the project was the timeline. Amgen, like many companies today, wanted to move very quickly to set up this new center.
Bea: They had a very aggressive timeline and their space requirements were such that that became a little bit of a challenge. The developer, the owner of the building there, Cousins Properties, bent over backwards and accommodated the company’s needs, including swing space or temporary space. They became very creative with that. And I think that Amgen would agree that along with the expedited permitting really helped them stay true to the timeline that they had set out to accomplish.
Patience: Michael was the man responsible for the start up of this operation. So we asked for his perspective.
Michael: So the start up, having been through this a few times, these start ups are always challenging. In our first year, we did dodge a couple of hurricanes which we didn’t plan into the timeline. But overall, there were really no surprises with the exception of a very positive one. We received a really warm welcome from the business community, the Economic Development Corporation. That’s really helpful when you’re starting a new site and trying to get networked in a new community, especially in a competitive job market.
Patience: So, you mentioned that, I love the phrase you used. You said you dodged a couple of hurricanes. Would you be willing to touch on, you know, what those stumbling blocks were and how you made it through those?
Michael: Well, we had Hurricane Irma come through Florida, really, it did the track…
Patience: So literally hurricanes you’re referring to.
Michael: Exactly. And then we had Hurricane Maria which disrupted one of our plants in Puerto Rico and the site was able to, you know, not only fare well through that, but also its support with our team and in Puerto Rico after the hurricane passed through.
Patience: So, perhaps the final question. You have worked in a number of communities and you mentioned that this is not your first time going through this process. From an operations perspective, what stands out about Tampa as a place to do business?
Michael: It’s a good question. Tampa is very well networked. So, what I mean by that is the warm welcome we received from different businesses, other locations, different groups that have supported our entrance into the community has been tremendous. And I think that’s a differentiator in this market that I haven’t seen at other places. The corporate community here partners quite nicely on key initiatives. If I think about the common themes that impact all of us, it’s transportation, it’s availability of talent, affordable housing. Those are important items for just about any corporation hiring a large group of people here in the market. So those are important to all of us. Those are things that we get together and discuss.
Patience: It has been just about a year since Michael Frankel arrived in Tampa and began to start up this new Amgen facility. So the facility has staffed up rather quickly, with approximately 350 hired at this point, about 10% relocating from Amgen’s headquarters in California. By the end of the year, they expect to be at full capacity of 450 staffers.
Andy: So we’re at the takeaways portion of this episode. Patience, you interviewed Michael. Why don’t we start out with you? What stood out to you about the Amgen project?
Patience: One aspect that stood out to me in particular was the emphasis on military presence when it came to talent. Often when we ask about talent, we’re initially, you know, met with a response that has to do with availability, skill, looking at the university presence. And Michael’s first point. I believe. was actually about the MacDill Air Force Base and how they were planning to use that as sort of a source for the talent that they’re recruiting in the region.
Andy: Yeah. No. That was different and we did hear that as something that they viewed very, very favorably in their decision here. I’ll go in a little different direction. I mean, to me what’s sort of really interesting about this is sort of Tampa’s ability to, in a very short period of time, you know, build this biotech cluster in terms of Bristol Myers Squibb first announcing in 2013, two years later, 2015, Johnson & Johnson announces they’re setting up a facility in Tampa. And then finally, 2017, Amgen announces they’re coming. You know, it’s just quite a, sort of like a snowball running down a hill in terms of their success in making this happen.
Patience: And Michael did highlight the fact that they do see this as an advantage actually, rather than, you know, looking at this being a competitive landscape. Having their peers in the region is a benefit for Amgen.
Andy: And part of the reason probably at, you know, sometimes you can see some companies that are worried about, are we going to steal employees from each other, that sort of thing. One advantage that the Tampa region has is it’s a growing region. There are a lot of people moving there, you know, there’s more talent coming into the region, so that makes it less of a concern about sort of stealing employees from other employers, that sort of thing.
Patience: So that is a wrap on episode 47 of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.
Andy: Our sincere thanks to Michael Frankel of Amgen, as well as Bea Bare of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.
Patience: We also have to thank Laura Fontanills as of the EDC who made these interviews happen.
Andy: “The Project” is sponsored by DCI. We are the leader in marketing places and have served over 450 different cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at aboutdci.com.
Patience: We hope you will keep listening. There are many more projects to come.