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In this corner of a critical presidential-election battleground state, the economy is surging with the urgency of a boom. But it wasn't President Bush's tax cuts, Federal Reserve interest rate policies or even a general economic turnaround that did the trick. It was war.

The frenetic activity is repeated all over the country. New kilns in California bake ceramic body-armor plates. Apparel plants in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida and Puerto Rico struggle to keep up with uniform orders. Once-idle textile mills in South Carolina spin rugged camouflage fabric. Army depots operate 24/7 to repair and rebuild the wreckage of war in time to ship it back with the next troop deployment.

16 percent of growth
In the first three months of this year, defense work accounted for nearly 16 percent of the nation's economic growth, according to the Commerce Department. Military spending leaped 15.1 percent to an annualized rate of $537.4 billion, up from $463.3 billion in the comparable period of 2003, when Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq over.

"That's pretty good, considering it's only 3 to 4 percent of the economy," said Joseph Liro, an economist at the New Jersey-based research firm Stone & McCarthy. "For one quarter, that's a pretty big number."

It is impossible to know how many of the 708,000 jobs created in the past three months are defense-related, since the Labor Department does not track defense contractor employment. But anecdotal evidence suggests the contribution is significant.

The flagging textile and apparel industry, which lost 50,000 jobs last year, gained 2,400 in April and is up 500 through the first four months of 2004, said Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services. That is the first net job gain for the industry in the first four months of any year since 1990, the last year for which the Labor Department maintained statistics. Since civilian textile demand is satisfied largely through imports, "Buy American" military orders must be driving the increases, McMillion said.