3M Co. is leaving town for its annual meeting for the first time.
The company, one of the best-known names in Minnesota business and the state’s most valuable company by market capitalization, will meet shareholders in Austin, Texas, in May instead of at its usual venue, St. Paul’s RiverCentre.
Company officials said the switch is meant to shine attention on its Austin-based energy and electronics business.
The unit is one of five main businesses in the $30 billion company, whose diversified products include Post-it notes, hospital supplies and optical films for cellphones.
Colleen Harris, a spokeswoman for Maplewood-based 3M, said energy and electronics “businesses have been an integral part of 3M’s success. So we are making this move there for now. … Being in Austin, Texas, gives us the chance to meet with shareholders there.”
But as corporate revenue rose 3 percent last year, sales for the energy and electronics unit fell 1.2 percent to $5.39 billion. At the same time, the unit’s operating income fell 7 percent to $954 million.
There have been rumors recently that 3M might spin off the electronics business, but the company has declined to comment on what it called “speculation.”
In announcing full-year results in January, 3M executives noted that the consumer and electronics market remains somewhat strained.
At the time, Edward Jones equity analyst Matt Arnold said that demand for 3M’s once-highly-popular screen-brightening films has been hurt by the shift from laptops to smaller cellphones and tablets. As a result, less optical film is needed. In addition, the growth in demand for cellphones is starting to level out, which is also impacting 3M.
The change in annual meeting locations is likely to disappoint throngs of loyal attendees who were typically 3M retirees, local boosters and shareholders from Minnesota and Wisconsin. 3M’s annual meeting used to be the “go-to” event of the year for many.
During the recent recession, 3M cut back and stopped giving shareholders goody bags full of its consumer products. It also stopped the free lunch and the practice of opening a large “3M store” inside the RiverCentre. And last year, it didn’t host its traditional trade show, which showcased scores of 3M researchers, scientists and new innovative products and displays.
CEO Inge Thulin said last year that the new approach is better, saves money and transformed the annual meeting into “a business meeting.” “I like the current format and won’t go back,” he said.
The change was noticed by retirees who said they liked the old format better.
The change also impacted attendance. Shareholders, who used to pack the 5,500-seat RiverCentre, barely filled half of it at the 3M meeting last May.
For the May 13 meeting in Texas, Harris did not know what to expect in the way of attendance. The meeting will be held at the Austin Convention Center, which can hold up to 3,000 guests in its largest room.
RiverCentre executives learned of 3M’s change a few months ago. “It was last-minute,” said RiverCentre staffer Gabe Clendenen, comparing it with the typically lengthy lead time for booking events. “It was last fall that they finally told us that they were going to Texas. As far as we know, they are not looking to come back to us.”