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Economic expert has praise, concerns for Forsyth
Warns against moratoriums at Chamber of Commerce event
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Frank Norton Jr., CEO and chairman of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency, was the keynote speaker at the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerces annual Economic Outlook Breakfast. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Forsyth forecast figures

* $404,000: Average single-family home price in south Forsyth

* $283,000: Average single-family home price in north Forsyth

* $343,000: Average home price in the county in 2016

* $250,000: Average home price in the county in 2011, the lowest value in the economic downturn

* 6.3%: poverty level, the lowest and only single-digit figure of the northeast Georgia counties

* $110,065: Average household income in Forsyth, the highest of the counties and only one over $100,000

* 4%: Forsyth unemployment rate

* 2,750: housing permits in 2016

(Source: Norton Agency’s Native Intelligence 2017)

To hear Frank Norton Jr. tell it, there is both plenty to be proud of and plenty to be concerned about for Forsyth County’s economy.

On Tuesday morning, the CEO and chairman of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency was the keynote speaker at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Outlook Breakfast.

“I believe my role is to inform; there is praise and there are challenges,” he said.

Norton, who said he has delivered such addresses for about 15 years, first spoke to the positives by disputing a previously discussed study by ranking Forsyth as ninth in the nation for incoming economic investment.

“I think you are No. 1; you have to understand you are No. 1 in the state of Georgia,” he said. “If you look at what’s happened since the recession and the movements this county has made, I’m not really sure we should be compared with California … or other parts of the country.”

He said the county has “all the ingredients” to maintain that place, which is dependent on the community.

“It’s you that drives this county,” he said. “It’s the investment that you make each and every day in this county, where it is your time, talent or resources, you are bringing great wealth to the long-term future of your children and grandchildren in Forsyth County.”

Norton also raised concerns on county zoning moratoriums, which are temporary stoppages on applying for development permits, which he said are popular for neighboring counties.

“Moratoriums … are not a good, effective way of controlling growth,” he said. “Your moratorium may be causing ripples here, but there are cheerleaders for your moratorium and the guys in Dawson County are cheering for your moratorium.”

Norton said a previous sewer moratorium “stimulated the housing boom that took place in the 2000s in Dawson County and that developers had rediscovered the area.

The county should also expect white-collar employment, Norton said, but should recognize the Ga. 400 and I-85 corridors have different characteristics and will get different results.

“The patterns have been set and it will continue to grow through this county,” Norton said. “You’ve got to struggle with maintaining your own identity, but that movement is headed this way. As scary as that may sound and you may say, ‘moratorium, moratorium, moratorium,’ that community is headed north because the momentum is headed your way.”

Norton spoke on several regional issues and trends including the closing of rural hospitals in north Georgia, the area’s increasing support for conservative candidates, development costs and the negative impact of national building companies on small builders.

Another issue Norton addressed was housing for millennials and future generations, one of the issues he said keeps him up at night. Norton said Atlanta had become a major hub, but that means leaving home communities.

“Atlanta is becoming a true magnet. It’s always been an African-American magnet – the best and brightest move to Atlanta because of the great opportunity. Now it’s becoming a millennial magnet,” Norton said. “Millennials in Macon don’t want to live in Macon; they want to live in Atlanta. The millennials that y’all are graduating from your great high schools are going to Atlanta.”

Norton said since the average home price in Forsyth County is about $398,000, rent prices are steadily climbing. Forsyth and surrounding counties moving away from apartments compounds the issue.

Housing is also an issue for creating new jobs, Norton said.

“The industries we’re going to attract here have to be coupled with a housing initiative with multiple price points,” he said. “If we want the industry, if we want the office buildings, if we want the medical, we’ve got to figure out a housing solution.”