A promise kept by Amgen

When Amgen bought Immunex, Seattle's largest biotech company, it said it would continue with Immunex's project to build the city's largest biotech campus on the northern edge of Elliott Bay. California-based Amgen has done what it promised, which speaks well of it — and of Seattle.

At 750 people, Immunex employment is only about half of what it was before the acquisition. But the scientific core of the company, from which the value flows, remains here, and it will soon occupy some of the finest laboratory space on the West Coast. The development is called the Helix Project. It is 750,000 square feet and cost its private owners $650 million.

The public involvement caused some controversy. The street to the site crossed the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and was blocked a large part of the day by trains, which is why the site had been underused.

To entice Immunex to invest more than half a billion dollars in it, and the company to stay in the city limits, city government agreed to build an overpass. Cities in Washington are constitutionally forbidden to invest in a company or subsidize it directly, but cities can build roads, because that is one of the things they do.

In local taxes and federal grants, the overpass cost $18.9 million. This was condemned by opponents as "corporate welfare." When Immunex sold to Amgen, opponents condemned it again, as if to say, "See? You built it and still they don't come."

They have come. Note that. And compared with what Amgen spent, and will continue to spend on the Seattle operation, public spending on the overpass was a small thing.

The big thing is what this company, and this industry, bring to Seattle. It is more than jobs. It is an economic identity for the 21st century.