It's often said that a little bit goes a long way, and that will certainly be the case for U.S. manufacturing growth in 2011. Although most projections still call for slower improvement in the sector than in 2010, the estimates have been characterized as "less bad" than originally expected -and that could translate into increased profit prospects for investors. The market gave evidence of that just last Tuesday (Jan. 4) when the major indexes shrugged off other concerns and moved nicely higher in response to a larger-than-expected 0.7% rise in November factory orders, which had been forecast to fall by 0.1% according to a Thomson-Reuters survey of economists. Orders excluding the volatile transportation sector also posted their biggest gain in eight months. Analysts characterized the numbers as "pointing to underlying strength in manufacturing." That bodes well for the greater economy, since U.S. manufacturers employ nearly 12 million people, or 9% of America's work force, and add $1.6 trillion annually to the U.S. economy, roughly 11% of gross domestic product (GDP).