By John S. McClenahen Unlike the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy, which saw its growth rate slow slightly last month, the non-manufacturing sector picked up the pace of growth in April, according to figures released May 5 by the Tempe, Ariz.-based Institute for Supply Management (ISM). Its business activity index for non-manufacturing -- which among other segments includes construction, utilities and mining -- was a record 68.4%, up 2.6 percentage points from March's 65.8%. It was the thirteenth consecutive month of growth for the non-manufacturing sector, notes Ralph G. Kauffman, chairperson of ISM's non-manufacturing business survey committee and coordinator of the purchasing and supply management program at the University of Houston -- Downtown. In April, none of the 17 industry groups included in non-manufacturing showed business contracting. Prices are on the rise in non-manufacturing, just as they are in manufacturing. In April, prices rose for 55 items including air conditioning equipment, aluminum, cable, carbon steel, copper, gasoline, paper and valves. The non-manufacturing index is based on data compiled from questions put to about 370 purchasing and supply executives in more than 60 industry segments. An index figure above 50% indicates that non-manufacturing generally is expanding; a figure below 50% signals that the sector is contracting.