Bush visits 3M headquarters, touts technology

Bush said the U.S. must stay technologically competitive and reach new markets worldwide.

Aidan M. Anderson

The vitality of keeping America globally competitive lies in innovation, President George W. Bush said.

He spoke to an audience of nearly 800 3M executives, employees and special guests Thursday at the company’s headquarters in Maplewood.

Bush encouraged embracing the developing world because it represents new customers, as opposed to leaning toward protectionism in the face of uncertainty.

Bush cited 3M’s 61 percent sales outside the United States as a prime reason to keep the markets open.

“If you’re good at something, let’s make sure we can sell it all around the world,” he said. “As a matter of fact… the United States of America should be doing everything we can to open markets and level the playing field.”

Prior to the speech, Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, toured a lab at 3M with CEO George W. Buckley and Jay Ihlenfeld, 3M vice president of research and development.

They viewed demonstrations of some of 3M’s nanotechnology and microreproduction.

“I really want to send a message that the United States of America… must remain a flexible, technologically based economy,” he said.

In his speech, Bush talked of bygone days ” license plate games, not DVD players, carbon copies, not laser printers.

“Technology has enabled us to be the preeminent economy in the world,” he said.

Bush said he recognized competitors emerging in places like India and China, but that he was a “fellow who liked competition.”

Bush drew ties from 3M’s leadership in research and development to a handful of his agenda items from his State of the Union address Monday night.

The president’s visit likely comes in an effort to push his state of the union agenda prior to the 2006 midterm elections, said Jason Roberts, a University political science associate professor.

“The idea behind going on the road now is to shape the media coverage,” Roberts said.

The goal is to depict Bush in a positive place, like 3M, to show that his policies are good for Minnesotans, he said.

Bush reiterated that his tax relief should be made permanent on the grounds that the way to make the economy grow is for people to have more money in their pockets to earn, save or spend.

Bush warned of increased taxes when the tax relief provision expires.

Bush again called on members of both parties to “set aside needless politics” and work toward Social Security reform.

“If you live in a global economy ” which we do ” with competition, it’s the countries that are able to fix their entitlement programs (that) will be countries that remain competitive,” he said. “Congress needs to remember that.”

Bush said he would look to companies like 3M to continue efforts to help wean the United States from Middle Eastern oil and that the dependence posed threats to economic and national security.

Flexible fuels, such as ethanol and hybrid technology, are some of the more important efforts, Bush said.

Bush’s proposal of zero dependence on Middle Eastern oil drew applause.

Competitiveness in research and development is directly related to the standard of living, he said.

Bush also advocated making an expired research and development tax credit permanent.

Bush said the policies outlined in the speech would help the United States maintain its “vital role” as a leader.

Minnesota Republican Party spokesman Mark Drake said Bush’s visit is a “compliment to our state.”

“I think the president delivered a very upbeat message; our economy is doing well, and he recognized we’re moving into an area that is more technology-based.”

DFL spokeswoman Donna Cassutt said Bush’s speech was “just more of the empty promises and rhetoric we’ve heard before.”

“I’m not sure that George Bush coming to town is really in the best interest of the (state) GOP, to be truthful,” she said. “I mean, I think it reminds people of both the wrong direction the country and Minnesota are going in.”