The manufacturing industry has lost nearly 3 million jobs since June of 2000.

SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – Commerce Secretary Don Evans gave an optimistic outlook of the U.S. economy Friday while acknowledging the manufacturing sector needs help.

Evans told business leaders at a luncheon that the economy is moving forward after a three-year funk, thanks in part to President Bush’s tax cuts. The stock market has rallied this year, housing starts up and car sales are strong, he said.

The manufacturing sector, however, has lost 2.7 million jobs since June 2000 and has suffered the brunt of the economic downturn that began in March 2001.

Because of that, the Bush administration is focusing on helping the sector, said Evans, who toured a machine products company before speaking to about 60 members of the Greater Portland Chambers of Commerce.

Evans’ visit to Maine was one of many that he and other Commerce Department officials are making to manufacturers across the country to learn the challenges facing them. His department will release a report at month’s end and deliver recommendations to President Bush on how to aid the sector.

Bush announced last week that he will create a new Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services position to help address issues facing manufacturers.

Evans said that the top concerns of manufacturers are rising health care costs, frivolous lawsuits, unreliable energy costs and “an unlevel playing field” in the global marketplace.

“We can compete with anybody at any time,” Evans said at the luncheon. “Just give us a level playing field.”

Evans said the economy has suffered in recent years as a result of indulgent spending among businesses in the late 1990s followed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and corporate accounting scandals.

But many indicators now suggest the economy is on the upswing. Evans said the administration’s tax cuts are starting to stimulate the economy; without the tax cuts, economic growth would be slower and unemployment higher, he said.

And Americans are starting to regain confidence that was shaken the past few years, he said. The Nasdaq composite is up 39 percent for the year, while the Dow Jones industrial average is up 15 percent.

“People are seeing that in their 401(k)s, which people were referring to as 201(k)s for a while,” he said.

AP-ES-09-05-03 1441EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.