TEMPE, Ariz. ( TheStreet) -- Economic conditions in the manufacturing space continued showing strength in April, according to an industry assessment released Monday morning, marking its fastest level of growth since June 2004.

The manufacturing index from the Institute for Supply Management improved to a reading of 60.4% in April. Typically, a reading above 50% tends to suggest growth and expansion in the factory ranks, while a reading below that mark hints at a slowing contraction. The April figure reflected sector expansion for the ninth straight month, according to the group's report, and topped 60% for the first time in nearly six years.

The April index reading also topped the Wall Street consensus, which had been anticipating a rise to 60% from 59.6% in March, according to Briefing.com.

The ISM report is stitched together using survey responses from supply executives throughout the U.S.

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Several individual manufacturing indicators tracked by the group showed further strength. A sub-index offering a reading on employment, for instance, gained another 3.4 percentage points to register 58.5% in April.

New orders improved, adding 4.2% points to reach 65.7, while production picked up, reading 66.9% following a 61.1% reading in March. But inventories began reflecting contraction last month, reading 49.4% following a 55.3% reading in the prior month.

"The signs for employment in the sector continue to improve as the Employment Index registered its fifth consecutive month of growth," said Norbert Ore, chair of the ISM, in a release. "Overall, the recovery in manufacturing continues quite strong, and the signs are positive for continued growth."

The report's improving employment picture in the factory ranks comes ahead of Friday's highly anticipated April jobs report from the Labor Department. Wall Street is looking for employers to add another 187,000 jobs to nonfarm payrolls, while the nation's unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 9.7%.

The stronger manufacturing reading also mirrors a broad rise in economic growth, reported last week. The Commerce Department said gross domestic product grew at a seasonally adjusted 3.2% annual pace in the first quarter, lifted by a jump in spending particularly for durable goods.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was adding 96 points, or 0.9%, to 11,104 soon after the release. Strong gains from blue-chip manufacturers like Caterpillar ( CAT), General Electric ( GE) and Boeing ( BA) were helping guide the average higher.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York

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