The Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT, www.amtonline.org) issued a statement of cautious optimism over reports that Ford (www.ford.com) posted its first sales gain in two years and that U.S. manufacturing activity slowed less than expected in July. The organization, which primarily represents small to mid-sized manufacturers, said these trends may signal “an end is near to the worst single-year decline in our industry”s history.”

Still, AMT said that while most experts agree that the “Cash-For-Clunkers” program has contributed to Ford’s turnaround, the program can’t go on forever, and the best way to stimulate the economy for true economic growth would be to provide tax relief to small businesses.

AMT Board member, Kim Beck, president of Automatic Feed (www.automaticfeed.com), a company that has been supplying coil handling and other equipment to the automotive industry for 50 years, has seen his company’s work force dwindle by 75 percent due to declining business over the past year. And while he supports the “Cash-For-Clunkers” program, he said, in a prepared statement, “My customers still lack the confidence and credit to invest in new equipment. Real work needs to be done in Washington now in order to save America’s small manufacturers.”