Monday, February 28, 2011

3M chief warns Obama over business regulation

By Hal Weitzman

The head of one of the US’s biggest industrial groups has launched a scathing attack on Barack Obama’s attempts to repair relations with companies, dubbing him “anti-business”.

Manufacturers could shift production out of the US to Canada or Mexico as a result, warned George Buckley, chief executive and chairman of 3M.

“I judge people by their feet, not their mouth,” he told the Financial Times. “We know what his instincts are – they are Robin Hood-esque. He is anti-business.”

The Obama administration has struck a more conciliatory tone towards business since the Democratic defeat in November’s midterm elections.

Last month, the president created a jobs and competitiveness council, chaired by Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of GE, and including chief executives such as American Express’s Kenneth Chenault, DuPont’s Ellen Kullman, Antonio Perez of Kodak and Southwest Airlines’ Gary Kelly. Mr Obama also convened a meeting this month with technology chief executives, including Steve Jobs of Apple, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

Mr Buckley, who has run the diversified manufacturer since 2005, said: “There is a sense among companies that this is a difficult place to do business. It is about regulation, taxation, seemingly anti-business policies in Washington, attitudes towards science.”

He added: “Politicians forget that business has choice. We’re not indentured servants and we will do business where it’s good and friendly. If it’s hostile, incrementally, things will slip away. We’ve got a real choice between manufacturing in Canada and Mexico – which tend to be pro-business – or America.”

The 3M chief also criticised US immigration policy, saying the difficulty of obtaining visas was forcing companies to move research and development overseas. “About 68 per cent of our science PhD candidates are from outside the US,” he said. “Many want to stay here afterwards but we’re not allowed as many visas as we would like.”

“We are now exporting science overseas to China, India, Germany, building labs there. There’s a good strategic reason for it, but we also have no choice – if we can’t get the people here and we’re competing with the people there, we have no choice but to do it locally.”

Mr Buckley struck a gloomy note on the US economy. “The macro numbers seem to be improving but when we look at the micro numbers – at what’s going on in housing, automotive, in manufacturing in general – it’s hard to get enthusiastic about it,” he said.