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Bush expands on competitiveness initative during Maplewood visit

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President George W. Bush and his wife Laura toured a 3M laboratory during a stop at the Maplewood company's headquarters. (MPR Photo/Sanden Totten)
President Bush on Thursday called for more investment in research and development and more spending to boost math and science education. Bush talked about his "American Competititiveness Initiative" during an appearance at 3M's corporate headquarters in Maplewood.

Maplewood, Minn. — Since giving his State of the Union address Tuesday President Bush as been traveling the nation underscoring key points of his proposals.

Standing before about 500 people packed into an auditorium at 3M, Bush said he was in the right place to talk about technology.

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Image Competitiveness pep talk

"In order to stay competitive, we have to lead the world in research and development and got to lead the world in having people; scientists and engineers that are capable of helping this America stay on the cutting edge of technology and 3M is the perfect place to come," he said.

Bush said there's a direct connection between technological innovation and quality of life. He said if America leads the world in science, America will create more good jobs.

Bush called on Congress to make permanent, billions of dollars in research and development tax credits for American companies. He's also proposing more spending on math and science education to include a program to bring 30,000 private-sector technology experts into classrooms as adjunct teachers.

Saying Americans should not fear the future but shape it, Bush told the group, primary made up of 3M employees, making America more competitive is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

"I wouldn't be proposing this if I didn't believe that there would be tangible benefits for the American people. We may not see them tomorrow but your children will see them. We're staying on the leading edge of technology for a reason. If America doesn't lead, if we try to kind of forget that we're in a competitive world, generations of Americans won't be able to realize the standard of living that we've been able to realize."

Throughout the 40-minute speech Bush linked his pro-innovation argument with a series of policies he has a long advocated. Bush underscored America needs tax relief, a reduced deficit, Social Security and health care and tort reform to be more competitive.

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Image The importance of research

Bush also promoted the development of alternative energy sources saying the United States' dependence on oil presents numerous threats to the country.

Unlike most all of his previous speeches in Minnesota Bush did not mention the war in Iraq.

Prior to his formal remarks, the president toured some 3M research facilities where work is being done to develop solar and hydrogen power and to deliver electricity more efficiently.

The president's remarks were well received by his audience. Following the speech Annette Barton who works as a project leader at 3M, said she liked hearing Bush articulate the importance of investing in research and development.

"It's important," she said. "It's great that he's focusing some of his time and energy on that. It's important to a company like 3M; I think it's important to our future... to society's future, not just to a company's future."

But critics of the president's "American Competitiveness Initiative" say the plan relies too heavily on corporate tax breaks.

Nancy Cauthen, the deputy director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, says the president should be more focused on fundamental problems which stand in the way of Americans becoming more competitive including a lack of affordable housing, health care, living wages and better education across-the-board.

"Focusing on math and science in high school is fine but if children are not equipped to... if their basic needs aren't being met then that's going to help that much," Cauthen said.

But in his speech President Bush said the "No Child Left Behind" act he championed is improving basic education by holding schools accountable for the money they spend.

As for the criticism about making research and development tax credits permanent, Bush said statistics show private companies, like 3M, drive innovation. If the nation wants to lead the world in technology, he argued, helping the private sector do more in that area is the logical approach to take.

The 3M visit marked President Bush's 18th visit to Minnesota since being elected.

While Bush said he chose 3M because of the company's reputation for innovation, political observers say the president probably made the stop in Minnesota as part of a broader strategy. They say he's trying to strengthen his sagging popularity here and they predict Bush will be back in hopes he can help Minnesota Republicans win in November's mid-term elections.