The new company's future matters to local business and civic leaders, who said the Santa Rosa facility is more than simply the county's biggest tech employer. They maintained that the 1972 arrival of Hewlett-Packard changed the county for the better, creating a highly-trained workforce that was infused with an ethos of giving back to the community.

"To me it's been one of the greatest gifts to Sonoma County, the talent that H-P brought here," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

The business here began under the influence of what became known as "the H-P Way" — core company values that emphasized collaboration, innovation and an aversion to layoffs that set the company apart for its humane treatment of employees.

H-P also became known for community involvement. Its employees repeatedly became the largest group of contributors to the local United Way's fundraising campaigns — a commitment that Nersesian said his workers continue today. As another example, in the mid-1990s a local H-P official chaired the statewide committee drafting math standards that for years have been used to guide instruction for California's 6 million public school students.

Agilent still employs one of the county's better-paid workforces. The typical employee here receives about $100,000 a year in salary and benefits.

The company remains "at the top of businesses that every community wishes they had," said Santa Rosa Mayor Scott Bartley.

"These are the jobs everybody wants," Bartley said, "but they're the hardest to attract."