If you're a dividend investor and haven't been following shares of 3M (NYSE:MMM) then you're doing something wrong. After the market closed yesterday the company increased its dividend to $0.635 per share, an 8% increase. This is the 55th consecutive year 3M has increased its dividend and the 96th consecutive year the company has paid dividends.

To put icing on the cake, the company announced a $7.5 billion share repurchase program, which could buy back more than 10% of the company's stock.  

Corporate America puts dividends first
We've seen a renewed focus on dividends at some of the largest companies in the U.S. recently, and investors are reevaluating these companies. Since the recession there have been fewer growth opportunities in large markets like the U.S. and Europe, and forward-thinking companies were already heavily invested in growth markets like China and Latin America.

The next best alternative for cash is paying investors back with dividends. Conglomerates like General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) are in the same boat as 3M. As growth has slowed dividend yield has gone up and investors look for cash instead of growth.

MMM Dividend Yield Chart

MMM Dividend Yield data by YCharts

Like 3M, GE bumped up its quarterly payout by 12% over the past few months to $0.19 per share. It also approved an increased share buyback by $10 billion. Johnson & Johnson did the same thing with a 7% increase in its dividend last year.

A little more than a decade ago, 3M, GE, and J&J would have been considered growth stocks, commanding high P/E ratios as leaders of their industries. Now investors look at them for nothing more than consistent earnings and a solid dividend yield.

In other news
3M also named Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent to its board of directors.

Fool contributor Travis Hoium has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 3M, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company and Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.