South Dakota and Minnesota led the pack for March among Midwestern states in a closely watched manufacturing survey that showed much-improved employment conditions and creeping inflationary pressure.

Creighton University's nine-state Mid-America Business Conditions Index released Monday was a strong 60.1, down slightly from 60.5 in February but still showing the fourth straight month of growth.

Any index higher than 50 indicates growth. The Institute for Supply Management's survey, also released Monday, indicated a national manufacturing growth index of 57.2.

"The overall index over the past several months indicates a healthy regional manufacturing economy and points to positive growth for both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing through the third quarter of this year," said Ernie Goss, director of Creighton's Economic Forecasting Group, which conducts the Mid-America survey.

While South Dakota had the highest index among the nine states in the Mid-America index at 67.2, Minnesota had the most growth, from 54.3 in February to 61.8 in March.

Manufacturers noted strong orders and employment factors.

"Durable goods manufacturers, including metal producers, continue to detail slow growth, while nondurable goods firms such as food processors experience improving economic conditions," Goss said. "Overall growth, both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing, will continue to expand at a healthy pace for the next three to six months."

Across the states in the survey — Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota — the employment index was strong at 62.6, up from 57 in January and the highest seen since May 2006. Managers at 62.9 percent of firms surveyed said they would hire in the next six months, up from 24.6 percent in June 2016.

"Even though the nonmanufacturing sector of the regional economy continues to outperform the manufacturing sector, that gap is closing," Goss said, noting that manufacturers of durable goods such as furniture and cars are still losing jobs but at a slower pace.