Business Briefs: People’s Natural Gas saves $11.1M over 4 years

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Peoples Natural Gas has saved $11.1 million over the past four years by adopting a series of recommended improvements from Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, the agency announced Thursday. The Pittsburgh-based utility implemented 15 of 22 recommendations that originated in a PUC-led audit in 2010. The PUC also made 11 new recommendations that it estimates will save Peoples $135,000 annually.

Survey: Small businesses are bouncing back

Small business owners nationwide are growing more optimistic about the economy, with 22 percent planning to add full-time staff in the next six months — the most since 2012, according to a biannual survey by PNC Bank. The survey also found 32 percent of small and mid-sized business owners plan to give employees raises, a sharp 10 percentage point jump since the fall survey. The findings "support our baseline forecast that the U.S. economic and jobs expansion should quickly bounce back this spring and propel what should be the economy's best year since before the Great Recession," PNC chief economist Stuart Hoffman said.

Irwin Car and Equipment buys rail repair company

Manufacturer Irwin Car and Equipment, which makes moving equipment for industrial, rail and mining companies, announced Thursday it has purchased Traction Motor Service a railroad motor repair center, also based in Irwin. 

National Society of Black Engineers returns to city

The National Society of Black Engineers convention will be returning to Pittsburgh for a third time in 2018, VisitPittsburgh announced Thursday. The last time the group was here in 2012 it generated more than $15 million in direct spending. The tourism group also announced that it had booked 590 meetings and conventions for 2013 and beyond. It estimated that bookings last year brought in $201 million in direct spending

Mall staple Brookstone seeks bankruptcy cover

Brookstone is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as part of its $147 million sale to Spencer Spirit Holdings. The purveyor of quirky gadgets said Thursday that its 240 stores will remain open. Spencer Spirit sells clothing, jewelry and gag gifts at its 644 Spencer’s stores and Halloween costumes at its Spirit pop-up shops.

Service sector grows on rising orders, hiring

Service firms expanded more quickly in March as new orders rose and hiring increased. The Institute for Supply Management says its service-sector index rose to 53.1 in March from 51.6 in February. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Trade deficit hits $42.3 billion in February

The U.S. trade deficit climbed to the highest level in five months in February as demand for American exports fell while imports increased slightly. The deficit increased to $42.3 billion, which was 7.7 percent above the January imbalance of $39.3 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. U.S. exports slipped 1.1 percent to $190.4 billion as sales of commercial aircraft, computers and farm goods fell. Imports edged up 0.4 percent to $232.7 billion, reflecting gains in imports of autos and clothing that offset a drop in crude oil to the lowest level in more than three years.

Barnes & Noble investor cutting stake

Liberty Media Corp. said Thursday that it is cutting its stake in Barnes & Noble Corp. The investment company gave Barnes & Noble a life line in 2011 when it bought 12 million shares at $17 apiece. The shares represented a 17 percent stake in the company. Liberty says it will keep 10 percent of its original investment and lose its two board seats.

BMW recalls cars in China; checking others

BMW says it is recalling 232,000 vehicles in China after identifying a problem with a bolt used in the engine, and says it is now checking whether the same defect can also be found in other countries. BMW says it has received no reports of any accidents related to the issue. It affects six-cylinder gas-powered motors in models built from June 2009 to June 2013.

From staff and wire reports

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