The good news on the manufacturing front for the coming year is that most of the bad news has already arrived. On the downside, economists say they don't expect much growth in the sector in 2001.

"From Maryland's perspective, their bad news is over," said Margaret Murphy, vice president of the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va. "They were an early loser for the old industrial base."

The number of manufacturing jobs in the state declined 14.5 percent, from 207,000 in 1989 to nearly 177,000 a decade later in 1999 as companies closed plants, put in new technologies to raise productivity and reduced their work forces.

Jobs ticked upward slightly to 179,000 in the first quarter of 2000, the latest figures available.

Patrick Arnold, director of labor market analysis and information in the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said that the slow growth could continue, adding another 1.5 percent to 2 percent this year.

"If there is a nationwide slowdown, we're expecting Maryland to fare pretty well in that," he said.

"We're not like some states that have had very precipitous increases, particularly in high tech. Our growth is much more manageable in my view."

A nationwide downturn in manufacturing had gathered enough momentum by year-end to help convince the Federal Reserve to reverse course. After a series of six interest-rate boosts, the Fed cut interest rates a half-point early this month.

The National Association of Purchasing Management's factory index dropped to 43.7 in December from 47.7 in November - the fifth consecutive monthly decline.

The Fed acted the day after the index was released, saying the cut was made "in light of further weakening of sales and production."

Art Stowe, president of the Printing and Imaging Industries of Maryland, said "the industry is running a little scared like everybody else."

"The big concerns are about dot-coms going out of business, and they have done an awful lot of print advertising over the past several years," he said.

Despite those worries, Stowe said industry analysts expect the printing industry to see increased sales of about 4 percent in 2001.

"We hope that that's valid," he said. "Personally, I'm fairly optimistic that we're going to do the 4 percent. I'm just not comfortable that the economy is exceedingly strong and am concerned about the dot-coms."

Mark Vitner, an economist who follows the area for First Union Corp., a banking company based in Charlotte, N.C., doesn't expect major job losses in the manufacturing sector this year, but gains are also unlikely.

'Significant' cutbacks'

"I think the first half of 2001 is going to be very difficult for the manufacturing sector," he said. "I think you're likely to see fairly significant production cutbacks across the country, but it's hard to pinpoint where those are going to be. ... We're seeing that inventories have risen in recent months, orders are falling off and manufacturers will have to cut back production."

One company to watch is Millennium Inorganic Chemicals of Hunt Valley, which employs about 450 at its plant in South Baltimore.

The maker of titanium dioxide plans a multimillion-dollar expansion but warned that if state and local officials don't come up with incentives for the money to be invested in Baltimore, the future of the plant could be in jeopardy.