-- Many of the customers at Window World of Tidewater in the past would have replaced the windows in their homes all at once, said co-owner Josh Reed. Now, because they feel uncertain about the future, they'll opt to replace only a few at a time.
The company hasn't grown as fast as Reed had planned, so he hasn't had as much money to invest.
"In the past, we definitely would have had more expenditures going out than we do now," Reed said. "We are just wanting to make sure there's more of a reserve available -- just in case."
-- Before the recession, 10 to 15 architectural firms competed for jobs against his, but now it's not uncommon for upwards of 70 to vie for work because it's so scarce, said Nick Vlattas, chief operations officer of Norfolk-based Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company.
Sometimes, even after firms spend money chasing jobs, the work still falls through because clients are worried about having enough cash.
Vlattas said his firm cut nonessential expenses, such as training and technology, to avoid major layoffs. The firm employed about 85 workers before the recession and has about 80 now.
-- Business owners used to plan for future growth more often when they picked out a new location, said Mark Warlick, senior vice president/partner with Norfolk-based S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co.
They'd lease or buy more space than they needed with plans to sublease the surplus to other companies until they could fill it themselves five years down the road, he said. This doesn't happen anymore.
Uncertainty "has basically just put the brakes on the growth of commercial business in the Hampton Roads area," Warlick said. "People aren't as gutsy as they used to be three years ago."
Warlick and an industry cohort, Bill Throne, first vice president over industrial properties for Cushman & Wakefield -- Thalhimer, said commercial and industrial real estate activity has been declining for three or four years, and neither believes it has turned the corner.
Throne said he has been rebuffed lately when he knocks on business owners' doors.
"I'm out talking to them about trying to expand. 'Would you like to lease a new building? Would you like to buy a new building?' " he said. "They say, 'No, we're not doing anything because we're going to wait to see what shakes out.' "
Businesses across the country have been stockpiling cash, and they've been slow to return to pre-recession spending levels on capital projects, according to data from the Federal Reserve.
In 2007, U.S. nonfinancial corporate businesses -- that's any corporation that is private, for-profit, domestic and nonfinancial -- had $1.5 trillion in liquid assets. That dipped to $1.4 trillion in 2008, but it climbed steadily to $1.7 trillion in 2011.
Those same businesses spent $1.1 trillion on capital expenditures in 2007. That dropped to a five-year low of $765 billion in 2009, and clawed back to just over $1 trillion last year.
Perhaps surprisingly, consumers are growing more confident about the future. A survey released Friday by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan showed consumer sentiment rose in November to its highest level in more than five years.
But businesses aren't as optimistic.
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