By John S. McClenahen For the first time in four years, U.S. manufacturing output in 2004 will grow at a faster rate than the overall U.S. economy, predicts the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). The business group expects manufacturing to post 6% growth, compared with 4.1% for the entire economy. What's more, NAM expects business investment in equipment to be a bigger growth driver than consumer spending. It foresees business spending on equipment rising 13.4% in 2004, compared with 9.5% in 2003, with purchases of computers and software increasing 16%, less than in 2003, and investment in other equipment rising 12%, three times 2003's 4% rate. "Macroeconomic recovery is under way; it is solid," asserts Jerry J. Jasinowski, NAM's president. Interestingly, the 2004 forecast that NAM released Jan. 15 is a bit more conservative than the outlook its economic model first generated. The initial forecast was for a 7% rise in manufacturing output during 2004 and 4.3% GDP growth. NAM lowered its numbers a bit after 50 of its member companies said the projections were too optimistic.