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Economic activity in Utah's manufacturing sector expanded at a "robust" pace in February, helped by strong orders at businesses that export to international customers, according to a report released Thursday.

The Goss Institute for Economic Research's index for manufacturing activity advanced to 62.6 from 61.3 in January. A reading above 50 signals growth; below 50 indicates that manufacturing is contracting. It is highly unusual for the index to rise above 70, according to institute director Ernie Goss.

The index is patterned after the Institute for Supply Management's national index of manufacturing activity, which fell to 52.4 in February from January's reading of 54.1. But that followed three straight monthly increases, and because any reading above 50 indicates growth, by that measure, U.S. manufacturing has grown for 31 straight months. Gains were reported in 11 of 18 manufacturing industries, led by apparel, machinery, metals and energy.

In Utah, "durable and nondurable goods manufacturers reported very healthy growth for the month. Growth was particularly strong for firms engaged in international sales," Goss said.

The institute measures manufacturing in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The overall index for the three-state region increased to 62.8 in February from 61.3 in January.

"Even though growth has been especially strong for firms tied to energy and agriculture, our surveys indicate that growth has spilled into a broad range of industries across the region," Goss said.

The weak dollar continued to help exporting companies, but more than half the respondents to Goss' survey indicated that rising energy prices pose a risk for the regional economy.

"This risk has risen to levels we have not seen since 2008," Goss said.

Colorado's index for February climbed to 59.1 from January's 57.6. Wyoming, a big energy producer, soared to 67.5 from 61.3. Twitter: @sltribpaul

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