U.S. Manufacturers Cautiously Optimistic About Economy

CHICAGO -- U.S. manufacturers are reflecting cautious optimism as jobs and productivity are projected to increase, according to a survey released yesterday by the National Association of Manufacturers.

More manufacturers say they will add jobs than cut jobs, forecasting the biggest increase in manufacturing and production since 1999. Results of the survey were released at the association's annual meeting in Chicago.

Sixty-three percent of the 430 manufacturers responding indicated they anticipate keeping current staffing levels the same this year; 31 percent said they expect to hire new employees. Only six percent anticipate layoffs.

New jobs are expected to be in the skilled production and professional positions, rather than service or support jobs.

The survey indicated mixed expectations for economic growth. The association's leaders project gross domestic product (GDP) will increase a solid four percent. GDP increased 4.3 percent in 2003. About 80 percent predicted GDP would increase about two percent in 2004 and about one-third predicted an increase of three percent or more.

The association also predicted substantial (six percent) increases in production for the year ahead. This will be the best effort since 1999. Last year the increase was 2.7 percent.Jerry Jasinowski, president of the association, said, "Recovery in manufacturing only really began in the fourth quarter last year, so most companies are just beginning to feel it now."

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