When Ed Garnett interviews prospective employees for Amgen Inc., he has an ace in the hole.

It isn't Amgen's billion-dollar Epogen drug franchise, or the fact that the stock price has more than doubled over the past year, although those accomplishments certainly help to attract the finest talent to the Thousand Oaks-based biotechnology firm.

What the vice president of human resources has up his sleeve is something entirely different: about 12 open slots in Amgen's day care center, which are reserved specifically for the children of new recruits.

"We had one guy (we wanted to hire) for whom it was a deal breaker," Garnett said. "We had to find a spot for this guy's child in our day care center (or he wasn't going to come on board)." A spot was found for his child, and he joined the company.

Amgen is not alone in designing benefits packages with appeal that goes beyond the pocketbook. In the increasingly fierce battle to lure the best and brightest and keep them employers are hauling out a new arsenal of weapons, benefits aimed squarely at workers' quality of life.

Dot-coms are offering concierge services that run the errands employees don't have time to handle. At Universal Studios Inc., employees can schedule 15-minute massages right at their desks. And at Red Bull N.A., an Austria-based energy drink manufacturer that opened an office in Santa Monica three years ago, employees can avail themselves of free consultations on legal, financial or psychological issues.

"There is this feeling that people are working harder than ever," said Victor Hwang, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance. "Beyond that there seems to be some fundamental shift in people's approach to the workplace. Quality of life is on par with strict compensation."

Amgen operates an on-premises car wash, a dry-cleaning pickup and delivery service, and takeout meal service for employees who don't have the inclination or the time to cook at home. But the centerpiece of its benefits package is the day care center.

So important is the center that on June 12, the company will cut the ribbon on a newly rebuilt and expanded facility that nearly doubles its capacity to 432 children. At 44,856 square feet, with 32 classrooms and 16 play yards, the facility is the largest corporate day care center in the country, according to Amgen officials.


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