Deal making by Minnesota companies quickened this year, with three of the state’s biggest companies involved in $1 billion transactions over the last nine days alone.

3M Co., the Maplewood conglomerate that for decades sprawled in new directions because of the ideas of its researchers, joined the deal making Tuesday with its biggest purchase ever. It said it will plunk down $2.5 billion to buy the Capital Safety harness-products company, which is based in Bloomington and has a big operation in Red Wing.

Late last week, Mendota Heights-based Patterson Cos. closed its $1.1 billion purchase of Dallas-based Animal Health International. And at the start of last week, Minneapolis-based Target Corp. sold its pharmacy business to CVS Health for $1.9 billion.

Through the first quarter of the year, the number of deals by Minnesota companies was in line with last year. But the value was larger, helped by UnitedHealth Group’s $13 billion purchase of Catamaran Corp., a pharmacy benefits manager, on the last day of the quarter.

As the second quarter ends next week, the year-ago comparison will be distorted by Medtronic’s $50 billion purchase of medical device firm Covidien, which was announced last June but closed this January. The number of megadeals, those above $1 billion, will be greater this year.

All of it is a far cry from when the job cuts and cash hoarding that characterized the long recovery from the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009.

“The thaw in [corporate cash] hoarding is recent. Now, they are buying companies left and right,” said Creighton University economics Prof. Ernie Goss.

In some cases, the moves are driven by big spikes in profits. In other cases “CEOs see these deals going down and they feel threatened by some of their competitors,” who are acquiring companies to get bigger, Goss said.

As well, corporate leaders are taking on debt now to finance deals before the Federal Reserve raises interest rates later this year, Goss said. “It’s not an entirely bad time to be taking on debt,” he said. “It makes more sense now, than a year from now when interest rates are a point higher.”

3M’s purchase will give it a large factory in Red Wing and a much bigger presence in worker safety equipment. The deal comes just four months after 3M’s last megadeal, the $1 billion purchase of Polypore International Inc.’s ultrafiltration business.

“Capital Safety is a tremendous business with a strong reputation in the safety industry and a talented team of dedicated employees,” said Frank Little, executive vice president of 3M’s safety and graphics business unit, into which the company will be folded.

Patrick Kennedy contributed to this report.