WASHINGTON - Manufacturing in the Philadelphia region surged in July, expanding at its fastest pace in more than three years, as new orders, shipments, and hiring all rose.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said Thursday that its index of regional factory activity rose to 23.9 in July from 17.8 in June. Any reading above zero indicates growth. July's figure is the highest since March 2011, and is much higher than last year's average of 6.4, according to Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

The data comes after a separate Fed report Wednesday suggested manufacturing output nationwide increased at a healthy pace in the April-June quarter. That's fueling the economy's return to growth after a dismal first quarter.

The Philly Fed report, and a similar report from the New York Fed Tuesday, suggests that U.S. manufacturing output continued to grow in July and will also boost growth in the third quarter.

Manufacturing in the New York region expanded in July at the fastest pace in more than four years, the New York Fed said. In the Philly Fed report, measures of new orders and shipments jumped to the highest levels in a decade, according to Dean Maki, an economist at Barclays Capital.

"The numbers are volatile, but this is a startling gain," said Shepherdson.

The Philadelphia Fed's survey covers manufacturing in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.