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The 'new normal': Businesses to stay lean

Even if the economy starts recovering next year, many businesses likely will stick to the game plan that helped them survive the recession.

Fewer employees.

Decreased spending.

Being creative while working with less.

This is what's being called the "new normal."

Business owners are becoming active employees (again) as restaurant owners go behind the bar and shopkeepers park themselves behind the register.

Law firms are ending entertainment perks - and, in some cases, substituting traditional hourly fees for more client-friendly flat fees.

Hospitals are swapping travel to conferences with video conferences.

Developers are trying to build smaller, less expensive homes or renovating old buildings, rather than building new, to get tough-to-win loans.

And state government agencies, a backbone of Columbia, await more cuts and changes if federal stimulus programs end next year and tax revenues don't increase to fill budget shortfalls.

Businesses are cautious about next year. As Leighton Lord, board chairman at the Nexsen Pruet law firm, put it: "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves."

As for the rest of less, maybe we're learning to live with less. Smaller birthday parties for our children. Shorter vacations - or stay-at-home-vacations. And maybe we're putting off getting that master's degree that several years ago would have meant an automatic bump in salary.

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