At the Rockwell Automation factory here, something encouraging happened recently that might be a portent of national economic recovery: managers reinstated a shift, hiring a dozen workers.
After months of layoffs, diminished production and anxiety about the depths of the Great Recession, the company — a bellwether because most of its customers are manufacturers themselves — saw enough new orders to justify adding people.
Given the panicked retreat that has characterized life on the American factory floor for many months, any expansion registers as a hopeful sign for the economy. Last week, the Federal Reserve found signs of 'modest improvement' in manufacturing. That reinforced the direction of a widely watched manufacturing index tracked by the Institute for Supply Management, which surged into positive territory last month for the first time in a year and a half.