CONOVER, N.C. - As record numbers of orders flow through Legacy Furniture Group's manufacturing plant, workers toil between towers of piled foam and incomplete end tables precariously stacked five pieces high.
With a 10 percent sales growth this year, Legacy has quickly forgotten the recession's low point in March, when weak order volumes forced the company to implement four-day work weeks.
In November alone, the company that specializes in furniture for the medical industry added a half-dozen employees to its staff of 35. These days, everyone is clocking overtime and the 40,000-square-foot factory is starting to feel awfully cramped.
Legacy's recent success highlights a trend: Counties with the heaviest reliance on manufacturing income are posting some of the biggest employment gains of the nation's early economic recovery. This is a big change from just half a year ago, when some economists worried that widespread layoffs by U.S. manufacturers might be part of an irreversible trend in that sector.
The Associated Press Economic Stress Index, a monthly analysis of the economic state of more than 3,100 U.S. counties, found that manufacturing counties have outperformed the national average since March. The Stress Index calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on a county's unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. The higher the number, the greater the county's level of economic stress.