The U.S. industry group, the National Association of Manufacturers, has heard from a top Bush administration official on economic prospects. The group met in Washington Wednesday to assess the recovery from last year's economic slowdown.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told the manufacturers that, while the economy is recovering, the pace is uneven across geographical and sectoral lines. He said pessimistic forecasts are not supported by facts and that while the growth pace is sluggish, there is steady improvement. Mr. O'Neill has said he expects the economy to resume growing at a three percent pace by the end of the year. He pointed out that, while the government budget will be in deficit this year, he is hopeful there will be surpluses in later years.

"But I also believe this: we've got to position ourselves so that when we are operating at a steady basis between three and four percent real growth, that we are balanced," he said. "That we have fiscal balance and are producing surpluses again."

After accumulating impressive surpluses during recent years, the government budget fell into deficit last year, as a result of big tax cuts and recession.

Bill Corcoran, an executive with W.R. Grace chemicals outside Baltimore, is in agreement with Mr. O'Neill's comments. He noted that boosting economic growth is his top concern.

"Just getting growth going again. Growth picking up," he said. "Demand picking up. We've got a lot of capacity in place and we've got to fill that capacity with demand. We've got to kick start consumer demand."

Last year's recession was short and shallow. Most experts say the recession ended nearly a year ago. But growth has averaged less than two percent so far this year.