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Pete Buttigieg, with his hand on the Bible held by Chasten Buttigieg, is sworn in as Transportation Secretary by Vice President Kamala Harris in the Old Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Buttigieg wants 'bold' changes in transportation

Pete Buttigieg, sworn in Wednesday as transportation secretary, urged his 55,000 employees to embrace "imaginative, bold, forward thinking" as the Transportation Department embarks on a mission to rebuild America's infrastructure and foster equality.

"We will continue to prioritize safety as the foundation of everything we do," Buttigieg said in his email message, which was obtained by The Associated Press. "And at the same time, we will break new ground: in ensuring that our economy recovers and rebuilds, in rising to the climate challenge, and in making sure transportation is an engine for equity in this country."

Praised by President Joe Biden as bringing a "new voice" to the administration, Buttigieg has pledged to quickly get to work promoting safety and restoring consumer trust in America's transportation networks as airlines, buses, city subway systems and Amtrak reel from plummeting ridership in the coronavirus pandemic. He also is expected to play an important role in promoting Biden's green initiatives, supporting the president's push later this year on a $2 trillion climate and infrastructure plan that would rebuild roads and bridges and expand zero-emission mass transit while boosting electric vehicle infrastructure.

 

Georgia moving to extend lawsuit ban

Georgia lawmakers wrangled for weeks last year before deciding to protect businesses and others from being sued if someone blames them for contracting COVID-19. On Wednesday, a state House committee agreed in a five-minute meeting to renew that protection for another year with no debate.

Members of the House Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System advanced House Bill 112 to the full House for more debate on a split voice vote.

The measure would extend the protections to July 14, 2022. They currently are set to expire July 14 of this year.

Committee Chairman Trey Kelley, a Cedartown Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said the measure is being supported by key business lobbying groups as well as the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, which typically represents plaintiffs lawyers.

"We felt like there needs to be some protection in place for our businesses and venues that try to keep themselves open and try to comply with the guidelines that have been put forth," Kelley said. "It's important that we keep our economy open and our people working."

 

Services industry bounces back in 2021

The services sector, where most Americans work, operated in January at the highest level in almost two years.

Activity climbed to a reading of 58.7% last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to a report Wednesday from the Institute for Supply Management, up a full percentage point from 57.7% in February. Any reading above 50 signals expansion in the services sector.

It was the highest reading since February 2019, when the index hit 58.8%. January was the eighth straight month of growth after sharp spring declines as the global pandemic broadsided the U.S. economy.

There were 14 industries reporting growth to start the year, led by the real estate sector. Only four industries contracted with the biggest declines in arts, entertainment and recreation.

Anthony Nieves, chair of the ISM service business survey committee, said that service businesses at the moment believe 2021 will be a good year.

"As long as we don't get derailed by other variants of the virus, we should maintain this growth and the second half of the year will be better than the first half," he said.

 

Stuckey's brings candy making, pecan processing in-house

ATLANTA — Atlanta-based Stuckey's, the kitschy roadside retailer known for its pecan log rolls, bought a Georgia manufacturing plant with plans to move some of the chain's candy-making and pecan processing in-house for the first time in decades.

Stephanie Stuckey, whose grandfather launched the business in the 1930s, said Tuesday that the acquisition of Atwell Pecan Co. and two related businesses will give the chain flexibility to expand its offerings and put its products in more outlets, such as groceries and other big chains. The parties are keeping the price private.

The plant in Wrens, about 30 miles southwest of Augusta, employs about 100 people year-round. Stuckey said the operation, which includes a shelling facility, will make log rolls, pralines, divinity, fudge, cheese straws and an expanded line of flavored pecans for Stuckey's and others.

 

Mueller Water Products reports $16.7 million in earnings

ATLANTA — Mueller Water Products Inc. on Wednesday reported fiscal first-quarter earnings of $16.7 million.

The Atlanta-based company said it had net income of 11 cents per share.

The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 8 cents per share.

The maker of fire hydrants, pipes and water valves posted revenue of $237.4 million in the period, also surpassing Street forecasts. Three analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $216.6 million.

Mueller Water Products shares have declined 1% since the beginning of the year. In the final minutes of trading on Wednesday, shares hit $12.26, a rise of slightly more than 3% in the last 12 months.

— Compiled by Dave Flessner

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