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Associated Press photos
The arrival of warmer temperatures has given a boost to homebuilding, including this site in northwest Chicago.

Economy shakes off hibernation

Indicators show strength for 3rd consecutive month

Anthony Zingale wires blender motors at the Vitamix manufacturing facility in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, Ohio. An increase in factory production helped the index of economic indictors rise a third straight month.

– Spring’s thaw is reviving the economy, too.

A recent batch of government and business reports show a U.S. economy emerging from winter’s deep freeze.

Economists had expected the growth to accelerate in 2014 after two years of slow and steady improvement. But an unusually bitter winter sent factories, hiring and consumer spending into hibernation.

Now, as temperatures rise, the economy is regaining momentum. Factories are busier. Consumers are spending more. Banks are making more loans to businesses. Companies have bigger plans to invest in plants and equipment. And the improvement appears to be widespread across the country.

An index based on several leading economic indicators – including employment, consumer confidence, stocks and interest rates – shot up for the third straight month in March, the Conference Board, a business research association, said Monday. The index’s 0.8 percent gain to 100.9 “suggests accelerated growth for the remainder of the spring and the summer,” said Ken Goldstein, a Conference Board economist.

Among those benefiting from a stronger job market is Courtney Ginder, 23. She found work almost immediately after graduating last year from Purdue University. She writes news releases, manages a corporate website and does other tasks for an Indiana company that helps manufacturers monitor their equipment remotely.

“I love my job,” she says. All of her Purdue friends, she says, also landed jobs in their field after graduation, too.

Many economists expect the economy to grow at an annual rate of 3 percent or more from April through June, up from an estimated 1.3 percent the first three months of the year.

Helping to drive the growth have been recent increases in manufacturing after tumbling in January. Factory production climbed 0.5 percent in March, after a 1.4 percent surge the previous month, the Federal Reserve reported last week.

After the winter slowdown, recovering motor vehicle sales have boosted revenue for companies such as Batesville Tool & Die in Batesville in southeast Indiana.

“We feel like the auto industry is all the way back from before the recession,” said Jody Fledderman, the company’s president and CEO. “The numbers we see are fully recovered from then. We expect to see 4 (percent) to 8 percent increases in the industry overall for the next three or four years.”

Weekly government reports on unemployment benefits show that most employers are prepping for stronger growth in the months ahead.

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