The economic engine may be stopped in other Georgia counties but just needs to be stoked in Forsyth, a local real estate expert told business officials Wednesday.
Frank J. Norton Jr., president of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, addressed members of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors and chairman’s cabinet during a closed meeting.
Chamber president James McCoy said the gathering gave leaders the chance to hear “what’s going on economically at mid-year.”
It was the second time the meeting, held at DeKalb Office in south Forsyth, had been held for the organization’s leadership.
Norton addresses the entire chamber membership each January after releasing his annual Native Intelligence report, an economic forecast.
Wednesday, Norton said Forsyth continues to fare better than most in the state.
He noted that some 1,175 new home permits were issued last year in Forsyth, the most of any county in Georgia.
“On the other side of the pond in Gwinnett, that number was only about 1,000,” Norton said. “And Gwinnett has 825,000 people.”
Forsyth, on the other hand, has less than 200,000 people.
Norton said Forsyth will continue to see growth over the next 20 years, as evidenced by the number of new home starts.
“There are about 11,000 vacant lots ready to build on in Forsyth,” he said.
That’s in comparison to about 17,000 in Gwinnett and 6,700 in Hall County.
Norton also pointed to Forsyth’s relatively low foreclosure rate compared to its neighbors.
Norton said other economic experts have called suburban areas outside Atlanta’s perimeter “the ring of death” due to vacant lots that “may never be developed in anyone’s lifetime.”
“I have a different view,” he said. “You can’t paint all of Atlanta with the same brush.”
Norton said Forsyth is at the heart of what he calls “a cone of recovery” that lies in counties to the north and east of Atlanta.
He believes that region will be the epicenter of economic recovery due to the housing market and unemployment rates.
He said about 60 percent of new jobs created in metro Atlanta in the past couple years have been developed “north of the Gold Dome.”
“And I think over the next 20 years, we’ll see 65 to 70 percent developed in that area,” he said.
He said one difficulty facing Forsyth is ensuring enough sales tax revenue to support continuing population growth.
“The problem with [growth] is it puts stress and strain on county government, on your school system, and your transportation and other systems,” he said.
He said Forsyth residents should do anything in their power to keep sales tax dollars local.
Another issue he said Forsyth likely will have to address is more diverse price points in its housing market.