The Norton Agency’s “Native Intelligence Report” can be viewed online at www.nortonintelligence.com.
A local real estate and economic expert described Forsyth County as “ground zero for business activity” during the annual Economic Outlook Breakfast on Tuesday.
Frank Norton Jr., president of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, said Forsyth remains “absolutely great” when it comes to the real estate market and economic development.
“You ought to be breaking your arm patting yourself on the back because what you’re going to see today is the work of all of the chamber, the civic leaders, the political leaders of building a fantastic infrastructure and a reputation for doing work right here,” Norton told the near capacity crowd of about 250.
Norton, who is considered an expert in the north Georgia area, each year authors Native Intelligence, an economic forecast that provides data on a range of topics, including housing and job markets.
He shares his findings during the local breakfast event, organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and held at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
According to Norton, one of the main reasons for Forsyth’s continued success is its strong housing market. He noted that inventory of homes on the market “is evaporating.”
“That’s a hard thing for us to cope with is that we’re out of inventory,” he said. “It’s getting harder and harder to show houses.”
Norton said home sales in 2012 were in line with those in 2000.
“We’re not where we were in the heyday of 2005, 2006 and 2007, but we have certainly recovered,” he said.
At the end of December, metro Atlanta had just 15,000 single-family homes, or a four months’ inventory. But for the past three years, about 52,000 single-family homes have been sold each year throughout the region.
“That is now our trend line demand, 52,000 houses a year, and we only have 15,000 in inventory,” said Norton, noting there aren’t nearly as many developers building new homes as there were several years ago.
“Part of our problem now is that the pendulum has swung so far over that you have to be a rock star with rock star credit to build a spec home today,” he said. “There are a number of banks that are loaning money for spec house construction, mostly here … [but] not many other places in metro Atlanta.
“We probably won’t see a construction boom for single-family homes for five to seven years. What we have is what we have.”
Norton said the outlooks seems more hopeful in Forsyth than any other county in the region, however.
“You filed some 1,480 [new home] permits in Forsyth County last year,” he said. “Only 7,000 permits were filed in all of Atlanta, 22 counties, and you did 1,480. Now Gwinnett … did 980. Wow. This is a county … of 181,000 and in Gwinnett they have 750,000, nearly 800,000 people.
“The power has shifted from one side of the Chattahoochee [River] to the other side of the Chattahoochee.”
Norton attributed that success to many factors.
“This is the testimony of your school system, of your infrastructure, of your quality of life and the successes of the chamber of commerce and [civic organizations] … this is bragging rights.”
Norton also pointed out that 43 percent of business announcements made by companies coming to Georgia since 2007 with 50 or more jobs, have been within the northeast Atlanta area.
“Business is headed this way,” he said. “And where employment happens, housing happens; and where housing happens, retail happens; and where retail happens and housing happens, people move their businesses.”
In 2013, Norton encouraged the audience to celebrate the successes of the county, but also to “recognize reality.”
“The biggest reality is, it isn’t over,” he said. “While we are an island of success, we are surrounded by an ocean of Atlanta, Ga., pain, and that pain is going to continue.
“We’re going to see spectacular bankruptcies of major developers in metro Atlanta … this pain is not over. This pain will continue for perhaps the next four years as we go through some sort of recovery.”
But he also predicted the next four years won’t be all bad.
“We also need to recognize the reality that while there is pain, equally there is tremendous opportunity — the opportunity for investment, the opportunity for merger,” he said.
Norton ended his presentation by encouraging the audience to do more to make sure Forsyth stays strong.
“I’m advising everybody that for the next four years, everybody needs to have a strong game plan,” he said. “People who have strong game plans win.”