Northwest Indiana's economy continued to roll, outpacing both the state and nation in May.
The Northwest Indiana Index, a finger on the pulse of the local economy, rose to 138.2 in May from 137.6. The 0.6 point bump was the biggest single-month increase since February 2012.
Job gains and a boost in steel production accounted for much of the increase. Northwest Indiana added 2,100 additional jobs, principally in the leisure and food service industries. After suffering from stalled growth during the harsh winter, the region has added 9,400 jobs over the last three months.
Statewide, the Indiana Business Research Center's Leading Index for Indiana rose 0.2 percent to 101.1 after the home building, automotive, transportation and broad-based manufacturing sectors all reported gains.
Northwest Indiana's economy grew by 0.44 percent in May, compared to 0.32 growth statewide and 0.25 percent growth nationally.
"This strong growth continues the trend of expansion following the significant weather-related decline in the early months of 2014," wrote Indiana University Northwest assistant professor of economics Micah Pollak, who compiled the index with finance professor Bala Arshanapalli.
The IUN professors are forecasting moderate growth of 1 to 2 percent over the next six months, which is unchanged from what they predicted at the beginning of the year.
Every component of the index improved in May, but the most dramatic was that local steel production rose by 3.5 percent, the largest monthly jump since May 2013. Steel output surged in anticipation of recent U.S. International Trade Commission ruling against steel dumping, and a European Union investigation into dumping.
Nationally, manufacturing workers clocked an average of 42.1 hours a week, the most since the data was first tracked in 1950. The ISM Manufacturing Index also rose 0.5 points, a 0.9 percent increase over April.
The picture is not entirely rosy though. The majority of new jobs added in May were in lower wage industries. Northwest Indiana still needs to add 11,000 jobs to return to the pre-recession level of 287,700. The Housing Market Index dropped 1 point in May, reflecting a continuation of the softening in that sector.