ByJohn S. McClenahen Following 18 months of decline, U.S. manufacturing is growing again, indicates the closely watched PMI index published by the Institute for Supply Management, Tempe, Ariz. The index was 54.7% in February. An index figure above 50% indicates the U.S. manufacturing economy is expanding; below 50% that it is contracting. January's index number was 49.9% "It is encouraging that 13 industries reported growth in new orders," says Norbert J. Ore, group director for strategic sourcing and procurement at Georgia-Pacific Corp. and chairperson of ISM's manufacturing business survey committee. The 13 industries are wood and wood products; primary metals; fabricated metals; rubber and plastic products; tobacco; leather; chemicals; transportation and equipment; glass, stone and aggregate; food; industrial and commercial equipment, and computers; electronic components and equipment; printing and publishing; and miscellaneous (mainly jewelry, toys, musical instruments and sporting goods). Meanwhile, the U.S. Commerce Department says that personal income in the U.S. increased $35.1 billion -- 0.4% -- in January. And consumer spending, technically known as personal consumption expenditures, was up $27.7 billion in January, also 0.4% higher than in December 2001. "Given the strength in consumer spending and [a] rebound in inventories, we expect GDP growth of around [an annual rate of] 3.5% in the first quarter," says Gerald D. Cohen, senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York.