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In The News

Agilent marks 40 years in Sonoma County

The company arrived in Santa Rosa in 1972 — soon to set up shop on 200 acres in Fountaingrove — and put its pioneering high-tech stamp on a largely agricultural community of about 50,000 residents.

“It was very much a small town,” said Sonoma County historian Lee Torliatt. “They sort of put Santa Rosa into the big leagues.”

It was Hewlett-Packard then and it would quickly become the county's largest private employer, playing a central role in transforming the North Bay.

“It began a migration of Silicon-Valley based businesses and technologies to this area and created a larger number of entrepreneurs and spinoffs over time,” said Rob Eyler, who heads Sonoma State University's Center for Regional Economic Analysis.

Though many still refer to it as “H-P,” it is now Agilent Technologies, formed when Hewlett-Packard's Sonoma County divisions were spun off into a new company in 1999.

That change appeared seamless on Friday as the company celebrated its 40 years in Santa Rosa, with nearly 2,000 employees crowding the Fountaingrove plant's cafeteria through the morning.

“There's been a sense of stability for me and certainly a sense of pride in being part of a such a company,” said Joe DePond, who joined the company in 1980 as an engineer.

Since it started as a microwave technologies operation here, the Santa Rosa-based electronic measurement group has grown to become Agilent's largest division, with $3.3 billion in revenue this fiscal year.


“It's been a wonderful gift that Agilent has stayed in this area and that we've been able to raise our kids here,” said DePond, who met his future wife on his first day at work and is now vice president and general manager of mobile broadband operations.

DePond was one of many longterm employees reminiscing Friday. But there were fresh hires, too.

“It's awesome,' said Erik Matisek of Santa Rosa who joined the company as an environmental, health and safety associate in November, working to ensure employees' needs in those areas are met.

“I grew up in Santa Rosa and I didn't know a whole lot about Agilent. It was the big business on the hill, but it was almost a mystery,” said Matisek, whose boss recruited him from Oliver's Markets, where he was a checker through high school and during college summers.

Now, he said, “I've seen such opportunity here; there's so many branches you can take.”

The company has undergone significant changes since becoming Agilent. A massive reorganization in the first half of the last decade, including shifting hundreds of jobs overseas, has reduced its dominance as an employer.

In 2000, it had about 4,000 employees. Today it has 1,200 permanent employees and a smaller number of temporary workers, and is the county's fourth-largest private employer.

“That was a painful time, but also an important time because we restructured the company into what we are today, which enabled us to exist and to grow,” said Agilent spokesman Jeff Weber, who took photographs Friday as employees mingled.

The company remains a key player in both the region's economy and, with its reputation for charitable work, as a community presence.


“They've had an incalculable effect in two ways: the corporate and technology side, and the community involvement and giving side,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

And among the employees eating pancakes in the Agilent cafeteria Friday there was the sense that the company's future is bright.

“There's kind of a fly-by-night atmosphere to a lot of places, but Agilent is going to be here for a lot of years to come,” said Kendra Hutchins.

The Indiana-native, who joined the company as a financial analyst 2½ years ago, said she chose it over other Bay Area firms.

“The fact that people are here and stay here 30 years is a testament,” she said. “People don't leave, so getting a job here is a coup.”

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