The Tennessee economy will continue its steady growth throughout the year,
the University of Tennessee's monthly forecasting gauge indicated
Tuesday.

The leading index, which projects economic conditions six to nine months in
the future, improved dramatically in March, UT-Knoxville economist Matt
Murray said.

''In fact, all five of the leading index's components improved. We're not
seeing mixed signals,'' Murray said. ''That's a significant departure from
some previous months when we've had some indicators going up, other
components going down. Here we have improvements across the board.''

Construction, sales and mortgages rose in March, the U.S. leading index
improved, and initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped sharply.

''The most exciting thing about the indicators for March is the strong
labor market performance that underlies the overall index for the Tennessee
economy,'' Murray said.

''The evidence points to increased firmness in the Tennessee labor markets.
Non-agricultural employment rose in March 0.8 percent. It was the second
consecutive monthly expansion in non-farm jobs.''

Murray said there is one negative signal concerning the Tennessee
employment picture -- a slight drop (0.2 percent) in the number of
manufacturing jobs in March.

''However, the March decline came on the heels of nine straight monthly
gains, including a very robust 6.5 percent increase in February. Therefore,
the meager March decrease in manufacturing jobs should not detract from the
otherwise promising labor data.''

Murray said the index, developed by the UT-Knoxville Center for Business
and Economic Research, has improved six of the last seven months.