By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
3M — the 112-year-old innovation company that never stops inventing from Post It notes and Scotch Guard to cell phone parts, fiber optics and touch screen hardware — came to Four Points when little else was here.
Now three decades and nearly 900 employees later, Four Points is home to 3M’s global headquarters of the 3M Electronics and Energy Business Group. The group that last week posted $1.5 billion in sales in the third quarter.
The local operations are the only one of 3M’s five business groups headquartered outside of St. Paul. Last year, the local group generated more than $5.4 billion in global sales.
The third quarter report released on Oct. 23 stated that electronics-related sales increased 8 percent year-on-year, with strong growth in display materials and systems and in electronics materials solutions.
A few months ago, local inventors at the 6801 River Place Blvd. campus, helped the Fortune 500 company reach a milestone when it surpassed 100,000 patents.
“In developed countries, any person at any given time is within 100 feet of a 3M product,” said Matthew Fagan, manager at 3M Electronics and Energy Business communications services.
Most of 3M’s products are abrasives, adhesives or coatings. About 60 percent of 3M’s products are related to coatings, although the coating itself may combine with a surface to create what the customer buys, Fagan said.
3M has more than 50,00 product lines. In Austin, the company works on electrical products used on high voltage applications to products used in your home, like black vinyl electrical tape, electronic products used in your cell phone; products that protect telecommunications and cable TV lines, and software products used in law enforcement.
3M creates hardware that works with touch products like at cash registers and is working on medical applications that respond to wearing gloves, said Jane Kovacs, public relations manager of 3M’s Electronics and Energy Business.
In May, 3M reached an innovation milestone with the issuance of 52 patents, moving the company’s total number of patents past the 100,000 mark.
One of 3M’s staff scientists , Audrey Sherman, works in the Electronics and Energy Business Group. She currently holds 50 patents. Her recent patent is for a material with great versatility, including the potential to improve cosmetics, insulation wrapping and electronics.
3M’s first patent was granted in 1924. Now each year, about 3,000 patents are issued to 3M worldwide, more than 500 of which are granted in the U.S. These patents have applications in a wide range of industries ranging from health care adhesives and sterilization products to consumer electronics to reflective traffic signs.
Four Points 3M campus
3M was founded in 1902 at the Lake Superior town of Two Harbors, Minn. and in 1910 was moved to St. Paul.
3M came to Four Points when “it was in the middle of nowhere,” Fagan said.
The company acquired 162 acres off of RM 2222 in the early 1980s and later sold four acres to a developer. By the mid 1980s, 3M broke ground on its Four Points campus and by 1988, employees started to fill the 11 new buildings, which are connected with walkways.
Today the campus, which is called 3M Austin Center, has 1.2 million-square-feet of space including offices, laboratories and an on-site co-generation utility plant that powers the 3M campus in Four Points.
“We needed a reliable source of power,” said Kovacs. When the campus was built, that was an issue and to ensure electricity would not be interrupted, the company took built its own utility plant.
3M Austin employees
About 880 of the 1,100 3M employees in Austin work at the Four Points campus and the remainder work at the 3M Research Boulevard plant site, which was the APC Industries‚ Inc. plant that 3M acquired in December 1982 making 3M’s first entry into Austin.
At its peak, there were some 1,800 3M employees at both Austin sites and then 2001, after the economic downturn, there were fewer than 1,000 staffers, Kovacs said.
The Four Points campus has capacity to office between 1,000 and 2,000 employees. Filling more of the local campus “likely will happen,” said Fagan. But he added 3M doesn’t know when that will happen, although the company is on an upward hiring trend and local staff is up 10 percent over last year.
“Right now, business is looking good. We’re going to hire to support business,” Fagan said.
Local employees span a range of fields including mechanical, chemical and electrical engineers and chemists. There are product managers and business to business technical support staffers in Four Points too.
The Electronics and Energy Business Group turns 3M technology into solutions for customers in electronics, energy, utility and infrastructure markets around the world.
Worldwide, 3M employs 89,000 people and has operations in more than 70 countries with sales over $31 billion.
“We have a saying, ‘Meet the needs of the market where you are,” Fagan said. “We sell global, think local.”
3M gives back
So far in 2014, the 3M Foundation has given over $1 million to Central Texas. Last year it also provided more than $1 million in cash, product and service donations to support education, human service, arts, environmental and civic initiatives in Central Texas.
One example is in August when the 3M Four Points campus hosted 40 to 50 girl scouts from several troops in the area.
“They divided into seven teams. Each team developed a car from common household items. Then they manufactured and marketed their cars with help from 36 3M volunteers,” said Kovacs.
In September alone, 3M awarded $54,000 to Austin-area organizations. Listed here are six of those initiatives.
Friends of the Colorado River Foundation received $30,000 for a mobile water science exhibit that teaches about limited water resources and the impact on them.
Central Texas TXCPSO was awarded $8,000 to wrap up the Destination Imagination 2014-2015 program season with the Central Regional Tournament. These tournaments give teams of K-12 students opportunities to solve creative academic challenges by using modern-day critical thinking skills.
A $5,000 grant was awarded to Austin Science Education Foundation to support the 2015 Austin Energy Regional Science Festival—one of the state’s largest regional science fairs promoting innovative research for nearly 3,000 Austin-area students in grades 3-12.
Davis Elementary, partner school for 3M Austin’s Research Boulevard site, received a grant for $5,000 for help implementing the Ocean Explorations through Project Based Learning program.
A $4,000 grant was given to the National Wildlife Federation to support their Eco-Schools USA program in the Austin area. This national program involves students, teachers, faculty, parents and communities at large to instill ecological responsibility and environmental awareness by creating schoolyard habitats.
The Trail of Lights Foundation was awarded $2,000 to help produce and display the Austin Trail of Lights for the 2014 holiday season. This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of a uniquely Austin tradition and seasonal event destination for nearly half a million area residents each year.
Across the country, 3M has invested $1.3 billion in cash and products in U.S. communities since 1953, with additional international contributions and countless volunteer hours.