For more than 30 years, Frank Norton, Jr. has given economic projections for north Georgia.
On Thursday, Norton, chairman and CEO of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, was back in Forsyth County to present to members of the local business community at a commercial real estate roundtable hosted by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce at SERVPRO of Forsyth and Dawson counties.
“What I try to do is understand and ponder the market as to where it is headed,” Norton said.
Norton shared his thoughts on a number of issues facing the area.
The city of Cumming has a smaller percentage of its residential properties available for rent than other cities in north Georgia but rentals still make up nearly half of all available properties. Norton said 45 percent of the city’s housing stock was rentals.
“Cumming had sewer systems before anything else had sewer systems, so most of the rental houses were in areas where you could provide utility services. That’s pretty much the pattern across the state of Georgia,” Norton said.
Comparatively, about 41 percent of Buford’s housing are rentals, 46 percent in Newnan, 52 percent in Dahlonega, 53 percent in Gainesville and 58 percent in Valdosta.
House prices and importing labor
Norton has previously been critical of Forsyth County’s residential standards, which he previously referred to as an “anti-growth county vision with roadblocks on development, permitting and code approval.”
At Thursday’s meeting, he said there needed to be a balance of price points for available homes.
“I said 20 years ago and I have repeated it that to be a good, strong community, you have to have multiple price points of housing. You have to have some low-income, subsidized rental, then you have to have non-subsidized low and average rental, then you have to have some luxury rental,” Norton said. “You have to have some rental housing, single-family residences. You have to have housing at multiple price points.”
A result of housing, Norton said, is a large workforce coming into the county from Gwinnett and Fulton counties, which he said was generally more affordable.
Norton said 37,000 Forsyth County residents go out of the county to work, while 26,000 employees come from outside areas to Forsyth.
“That is our firemen. That is our teachers. That is the people we have priced out of this marketplace,” he said. “What scares me is this number is moving faster upward over the last five years than [outgoing] is, and this number will at some time over the next five years eclipse those who go out. We’ll be importing more labor than we’re exporting.”
Being a meeting of business minds, Norton gave attendees several figures on Forsyth County and how it compares to the surrounding area.
“You are what I refer to as the $7 billion baby, that is the buying power of this community,” Norton said. “You take the household income and multiply it by the number of households to come up with that number.”
Another figured used by Norton looked at the total values of homes on Lake Lanier, which is $1.1 billion “not including the commercial values or the marina values.”
“One of the things that I’ve tried to point out is we need to take more advantage of Lake Lanier,” Norton said. “We need parks. It’s Atlanta and America’s playground.”
As evident by Norton’s comments on more affordable housing, Forsyth County’s average home value is among the top in the state and nation. The average home value in the county is $398,000 and the average new home is in the $430,000 range, Norton said.
A reason for that is the income of county residents.
“You are the highest income in the entire state of Georgia,” Norton said.
Robert Long, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, said Forsyth also ranked as the 16th highest county in the nation in income.