If you long for this recent recession to be a distant memory, the latest news from the Manufacturers Alliance may hearten you.

According to data from the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, U.S. manufacturing production grew at an annualized rate of 7% in the quarter ended in April. MAPI chief economist Daniel J. Meckstroth declared, "A recovery is clearly well under way, and the industrial rebound is stronger than that in the general economy."

That's especially good news for investors in manufacturing companies, especially those on IndustryWeek's annual list of its "50 Best Manufacturing Companies." Check out a few qualifiers:

  • Western Digital (NYSE: WDC) has many investors excited. The hard-drive maker is well-positioned to profit as the economy recovers, and businesses and consumers who put off computer purchases start buying again. While competitor Seagate (Nasdaq: STX) has struggled recently, Western Digital added capacity and has gained market share. Seagate leads in the higher-end corporate realm, but Western Digital is stronger among consumers.
  • First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) impressed many with its recent earnings report, featuring revenue that rose 36% year over year. It's been building out its manufacturing capacity to take full advantage of demand, and it also stands to benefit from recent stabilization in solar pricing. Some fear a coming capacity glut in the industry, but First Solar's low cost structure may give it an edge.
  • Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is bucking to join First Solar as a major solar player. That could pay off well as solar power gains traction. Its bread-and-butter defense business should also benefit, at least in the near future, from continued conflicts around the world. All isn't rosy, though -- the company has suffered cost overruns on the F-35 fighters it's building for the military. Lockheed recently offered to build the jets for a fixed price.
  • Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM) is a cash-rich growth opportunity, and the world's second-largest tobacco company, selling Marlboro and other brands around the globe. As emerging-market countries develop, their populations will likely smoke more cigarettes -- and as the global economy gets back on its feet, overall sales of smokes will likely get a boost, too. Philip Morris offers investors relatively stable growth, dividends, share buybacks, an addictive product, and the prospect of less litigation and regulation than in the U.S.

Whether you invest in attractive companies, or build a watch list to take advantage of more compelling prices, now may be a good time to take a closer look at manufacturers that interest you.

Which manufacturing company has you most excited about its prospects? Let us know -- leave a comment below!

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of First Solar. First Solar is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Philip Morris International is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.