Boosted by a big jump in employment, a purchasing managers index for the manufacturing-heavy Midwest U.S. inched up.

The Chicago Business Barometer, commonly called the Chicago PMI, moved to 59.8 in February from January's 59.6 Friday--marking its first increase since October, when it reached its highest level since March 2011.

The main number, which often previews the national PMI, was lifted by the employment subindex jumping to 59.3 in February from 49.2 in the prior month. A reading above 50 in any category indicates expansion.

Movement in the Chicago PMI's other subindexes was less dramatic. The prices-paid category fell to 59.1 in February from January's 64.9, while new orders inched down to 63.6 from 64.6. Suppliers deliveries ticked up to 57.4 from 56.3.

The results cut against the grain of recent economic data. Manufacturing indicators have been decidedly tepid recently, with industrial production sliding 0.3% in January. Also, the nonfarm payrolls reports for December and January indicated that fewer jobs were created than expected. Economists have debated whether the less-than-impressive numbers stem from the effects of harsh winter weather or signal slowing economic growth.

Citing the high levels of the subindexes, Philip Uglow, MNI Indicators' chief economist, said the report "confirms that the U.S. economic recovery continued in February,"

"Firms continued to rebuild inventory and just over 50% of respondents said they planned to increase stock levels over the next three months," he added.