Fluoride Action Network

Editorial: We’re glad 3M — and its jobs — are here

Source: Pioneer Press | August 25th, 2012
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

Imagine the impact of luring a Fortune 500 company — say, one of the 3Ms of the world — to our state.

Let’s dream big: Make it a company with thousands of employees in good-paying jobs. Make it an ideas powerhouse with a family of products that are global brands. Add a legacy of giving back and you’ve got, well, 3M.

It has its critics — many companies do — but the homegrown giant shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in a state that’s working harder to sell itself to the world as a good place to do business, and one that values jobs, jobs, jobs.

3M, with 84,000 employees worldwide and operations in more than 65 countries, increased its operating income to $6 billion in 2011. And it all started here. The company was founded in 1902 in Two Harbors and moved to St. Paul in 1910.

From its humble early years, 3M grew up with a “tolerance for tinkerers” and became known for innovations like Scotch tape and Post-It Notes. A video commemorating its history notes the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill an idea.”

The company and its leaders prospered, and those leaving legacies include William L. McKnight, president and CEO, whose 3M career spanned 59 years, and Archibald Bush, an executive who served the company for more than 50 years. Foundations bearing the names of both men — neither is affiliated with the company — have invested statewide in the arts, education, human services and other causes since the 1950s. Over the years, the McKnight Foundation has granted about $1.7 billion, with $91 million in 2011. The Bush Foundation total is $800 million in grants and fellowships, $30 million in 2011.

The men left their imprint on the local landscape, as well, with McKnight Road near the corporate campus in Maplewood, and Bush Avenue, where 3M had its headquarters on St. Paul’s East Side for many years.

The company’s history also includes drawing fire from time to time, including in recent years for its environmental record.

Last year on these pages, we welcomed reports about progress on the company’s seven-year commitment to clean up a chemical pollutant found in some tested Washington County residents.

In December, the company revealed its estimate for the cleanup cost: $50 million spent to filter Oakdale city drinking water, hook up well-water users to city-water connections and pump out groundwater to filter it.

According to a Minnesota Health Department study, levels of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs — discovered in 2004 in the drinking water of more than 60,000 people from Oakdale to Hastings — dropped between 13 percent and 26 percent. That should help provide some peace of mind.

3M manufactured PFCs, starting in the 1940s, for use in household products, including Scotchgard stain repellent. It legally dumped PFCs in landfills until the 1970s, and stopped making PFCs in 2002, although other companies still manufacture them, the Pioneer Press reported, noting that megadoses of PFCs have been shown to cause cancer, thyroid problems and birth defects in mice, and that no harm has ever been shown to humans from the chemicals, in any dose.

The company made environmental news again in June when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency ruled that it may burn non-3M waste at its Cottage Grove incinerator, ending a 3-1/2-year controversy that split the community over issues of public health, corporate responsibility and profits, the Pioneer Press reported. The 41-year-old facility is the only hazardous-waste incinerator in the state, and 3M’s only one in the world.

Opponents argued that burning the extra material will endanger public health. PCA staff said it would increase pollution only slightly — if at all — and that pollution would remain well below permitted standards.

We can’t overlook the issues. They’re serious; sensible regulations protect us and the environment. And issues are to be expected. The promise of prosperity and the jobs — precious family-sustaining jobs — that come with it bring tradeoffs and tough decisions.

A few words on its website demonstrate the company’s appeal:

“3M captures the spark of new ideas and transforms them into thousands of ingenious products. Our culture of creative collaboration inspires a never-ending stream of powerful technologies that make life better. 3M is the innovation company that never stops inventing.”

Who wouldn’t want — and value — a company like that? 3M, we’re glad our hometown is yours.