Markit Economics said the manufacturing sector's Purchasing Managers Index for the month jumped from 54 in December to 56.1 in January, indicating the "strongest expansion since March 2011," Markit's monthly report said.
The critical component index for new orders rose from 54.7 to 57.5, which was the fastest one-month improvement in nearly three years.
The index on output or production rose from 54.5 to 57.2. The employment index rose from 54.5 to 55.6.
The new export index slipped, dropping from 52.6 to 51.3, but numbers above 50 indicate growth, meaning new exports continued to grow, but at a slower pace than December.
"The U.S. manufacturing sector started 2013 on a strong footing," said Markit Chief Economist Chris Williamson.
"These survey data are consistent with production growing at a quarterly rate of around 1.5 percent at the start of the year and manufacturing payrolls rising by approximately 15,000 per month," he said.