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Expert hails local recovery
Views county as economic leader
Norton WEB 1
Frank Norton Jr. says Forsyth County is positioned to be a leader in economic recovery. - photo by Jim Dean

An area real estate expert described Forsyth County as a leader in the economic and housing market recovery.

Frank Norton Jr. discussed several of his 2012 “trends” Tuesday during the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Outlook breakfast.

“Last year I told you [Forsyth County] was different, this year I’m telling you it’s a leader,” Norton shared with the crowd of about 200 at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

Norton, president of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, authors Native Intelligence, an annual economic forecast that provides data on a range of topics, including housing and job markets.

He told the audience that this year’s report features 10 “trends” for 2012, a few of which he highlighted Tuesday.

The first, he said, is that “2012 isn’t the end of the world.”

“The Mayans got it wrong,” he said jokingly of the ancient culture’s prophecy. “We’re still here and still growing. Certainly Forsyth County is.”

Norton said he believes the key to economic recovery from the ongoing recession is the housing market. The good news there centers on lower inventory numbers.

“The housing market is showing resilience to the economic Armageddon around us,” he said. “We have the lowest level of inventory that we’ve had in the past 10 years.”

He said in the metro Atlanta area, inventory is at about a six-and-a-half month supply.

“Atlanta has stabilized and prices are going to go up because the supply we have is the supply we have,” he said. “With the exception of Forsyth County, no one is building anything.”

Foreclosures, he said, are also down across the area, particularly in Forsyth.

“Ya’ll don’t have any foreclosures [by comparison to other counties],” he said.

Norton also noted that housing market recovery will follow new jobs, and most of those being created in northeast Georgia are in Forsyth and Hall counties.

“There’s a wedge of economic growth that’s centered around the Ga. 400 and [Interstate] 985 corridors,” he said. “Builders are going to go where the businesses are going.”

Another “trend” Norton highlighted is the importance of Lake Lanier and the area’s water supply.

Norton said he is an advocate of removing silt from the lake that has built up over the past 50 years and “digging it deeper.”

“That could create 61 to 92 billion gallons of water capacity,” he said. “It’s very simple, and once it’s dug out, it could be raised by 2 feet … that adds 28 billion gallons of water storage, or the equivalent of another 20 future reservoirs that aren’t even EPA-approved yet.”

Norton said buying local and investing in America are other important trends for 2012.

“You vote at the ballot box and you also vote with your dollar,” he said. “We need to be thinking about that.

“If you live in Forsyth County, you need to spend your money in Forsyth County.”

Norton went on to say how buying American-made products could stimulate the economy.

“If every American family spent just $3.92 more a year on American-made goods, it could create 10,000 jobs,” he said.

He also encouraged Forsyth residents to buy local property.

“Don’t let that Atlanta person come and buy it,” he said. “Put that land into stewardship.”

Norton called Forsyth “the best place to invest in all of metro Atlanta.”

“The future right here is positive,” he said. “I believe in the future of Forsyth County.

“But remember, you’ve just built the foundation. Now it’s time to get to work.”

Audience member Tony Brown, a builder, said he always enjoys hearing from Norton.

“I don’t know of anybody in this market who does what he does,” Brown said. “He always has a reliable, unbiased opinion for what’s going in the market.”