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Agilent marks 40 years in Sonoma County

  • An optical spectrum analyzer, introduced in 1991 by Agilent, was one of many historical products on display as the company sponsored a breakfast for their employees celebrating 40 years in Santa Rosa, Friday Dec. 21, 2012 at Agilent. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

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.

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