The National Association of Manufacturers predicted a strong recovery for the manufacturing sector in 2004, outlining growth of more than 6% in a new economic forecast released Feb. 23 at National Manufacturing Week in Chicago. NAM also released its annual membership survey results. "The Outlook for Manufacturing and the U.S. Economy" projects U.S. GDP will increase 4% in 2004. "As for manufacturing, after edging up 2.7% in 2003, we expect production to increase by over 6% in 2004," says Jerry Jasinowski, president of Washington, D.C.-based NAM. NAM's GDP forecast was more optimistic than that of much of its membership, which was queried about expectations for GDP growth in 2004. Some 31% said they expected growth of 3% or more, while 48% predicted growth of 2% to 2.9% and 20% said growth would remain flat to 1.9% growth. On the hiring front, just 6% of those surveyed said they expect to reduce employment this year, while 31% projected they would increase their hiring. Of those who expect to do "significant" hiring, 34% said it would be of skilled workers for production jobs, followed by low-skilled workers for low-skill positions (17%) and highly educated professionals (12%). Asked about primary impediments to keeping manufacturing production in the U.S., the top three responses were: cost of non-wage compensation such as health care and pension benefits (89%), cost of complying with human resources regulations (52%) and cost of complying with environmental regulations. Members were able to select more than one response. The survey was conducted in the first half of February. Some 3,000 surveys were randomly distributed to NAM members; 432 were returned for a response rate of 14.4%.