New Jersey's economy grew strongly over the past three months, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

"New Jersey has shown a very strong beginning to 2012," said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy at Rutgers New Brunswick.

An index measuring employment, manufacturing and wages showed New Jersey improved 3.1% in February.

"This is the first time in probably six years where we can be optimistic about the next six months."

New Jersey's index is stronger than neighboring states in Pennsylvania, which is at 2.9% and Delaware, at 0.8%, but still not quite as strong as the nation, which improved to 3.3%.

Hughes said the first two months of this year the state achieved job growth equal to half of all of 2011.

"There were certain sectors of the economy that grew, there has been job growth in the health care industry, technology and hospitality and leisure fields. At the same time government employment has been flat or may decline over the next six months."

Hughes said the only factor that could derail New Jersey's bounce-back is a major external shock such as last year's tsunami that brought surging energy costs.

"That would really be the only speed-bump on the highway of economic recovery...but this is positive news all around."