___Avis buying Zipcar in deal worth nearly $500 million NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Avis is leaping into the car-sharing service business by buying Zipcar for $491.2 million, aiming to capture a new type of customer and technology that will vastly expand its car rental options. Car sharing has become a popular alternative to traditional rentals in metropolitan areas and on college campuses, allowing members to get a vehicle for an hour or two for short trips instead of renting a car for a day or using mass transit. The segment has been growing while traditional car rentals have struggled in the current slow-growth economy. Zipcar, which was founded in 2000, has more than 760,000 members, triple what it had in 2008. It went public in 2011 and 2012 is expected to be its first-ever profitable year. Avis Budget Group Inc. is the third-largest U.S. rental car company, behind Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Hertz Global Holdings Inc. ___ US manufacturing expanded slightly last month WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. manufacturing grew slightly last month and factory hiring increased. The modest gain suggests the economy entered the new year with some momentum. The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its index of manufacturing activity rose in December to 50.7. That's up from a reading of 49.5 in November, which was the lowest reading since July 2009, one month after the recession ended. A reading above 50 indicates growth, while a reading below signals contraction. The ISM is a trade group of purchasing managers. ___ US construction spending dips 0.3 percent WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Spending on U.S. construction projects fell in November from October because a steep drop in volatile federal projects offset another gain in home building. Construction spending dipped 0.3 percent in November, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the first decline since March and followed a 0.7 percent increase in October, which was revised lower.