3M’s latest innovation center shows the importance of location: It’s in DC

by James Langford | 

Retailers have long understood the importance of being close to their customers.

It’s not a bad idea for industrial technology giants like 3M, either, a truth acknowledged with the St. Paul, Minn.-based company’s latest innovation center, which opened this week in the U.S. capital.

The site highlights products from air-filter masks to medical products and vehicle parts developed by a firm whose CEO describes its mission as applying science to life. Since taking the helm in February 2012, Inge Thulin has nearly tripled 3M’s market value to $143 billion while boosting spending on development of new products for customers from schoolteachers to the U.S. government to 6 percent of annual revenue.

“Research and development is the heartbeat of 3M,” Thulin told the Washington Examiner. “We have the opportunity now both to have policymakers come in and see what we can do and also to help, in terms of safety, the military.”

While defense contracts aren’t a huge revenue generator for 3M, they are “an important element of our business,” he noted, with products that range from combat helmets with built-in communications equipment to tactical safety goggles and lightweight body-armor plates.

The innovation center will let 3M showcase itself to a diverse audience that includes regulators, lawmakers, and diplomats. The exhibit hall at its heart illustrates the company’s links to the latest industrial developments, from self-driving cars to airplanes fashioned with composite plastics and computerized mapping of power lines.

“We’d like to show our opportunities here in Washington in a better way,” Thulin said. “We are important to everything that’s going on here. We’re big in health care, we’re big in infrastructure, and we’re huge in education.”

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