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Regional expert hails Forsyth County for growth, policies
Frank Norton Jr.

FORSYTH COUNTY — With numerous creeks, the Chattahoochee River and Lake Lanier, Forsyth County residents are accustomed to water. But Frank Norton Jr. had a simple request for the area Tuesday — keep swimming upstream.

“Swimming upstream is what y’all have done best,” Norton said. “Because of that, y’all are capturing more share of what is happening in Atlanta than all 22 counties we study. That’s pretty amazing.

“Because of what you have built here you have pulled yourself out of the pack of other counties and are leading northeast Georgia.”

Norton, chairman and CEO of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, was the keynote speaker for the 2015 Economic Outlook Breakfast at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth County Conference Center.

He shared his Norton Native Intelligence report for 2015, praising Forsyth for its growth and economic policies, and offering a few predications of what could happen. He also lauded Forsyth for its rapid growth rate and higher salary average when compared to neighboring counties.

“In northeast Georgia, and we do still count Gwinnett County as northeast Georgia, you are the third largest,” he said. “But you are actually the fastest growing county of all of them.

“If we look at the median household income, you outstrip every other county.”

Much of Norton’s presentation hinged on the changing demographics of the area.

“I used to think we were surrounded by baby boomers,” he said. “I started out writing my forecast on the power of baby booming in northeast Georgia. [But] if we go to Forsyth, [there are] 60,000 [Generation] Ys, 49,000 [Generation] Xs and only 43,000 baby boomers.”

As part of appealing to the younger sets, Norton advised local officials to rethink lake frontage. He said the county has more than 5,000 lakefront homes, most of which were built in the 1950s and ’60s. The shoreline could be revitalized for new second homes to appeal to those in the metro Atlanta area looking for somewhere to go on weekends.

“The first [plan] is turn north Georgia into a second-home mecca,” he said. “That’s the best cash revenue that you could ever want and ever get.

“[Those property owners would] eat at your restaurants as regulars,. They want entertainment, they shop in your grocery stores and they leave their … sales tax dollars here and go home.”

Norton said another way to appeal to Generation Y was to “rethink work” and offer more tech-driven careers. He added that Mercedes-Benz’s recent move to the north metro area likely will spur growth along Ga. 400.

“We need to refocus our definition of work,” he said. “Ga. 400 has that potential of being Atlanta’s high-tech corridor. The impact of Mercedes choosing Sandy Springs, the base of that pipeline, will have a profound effect on housing in south Forsyth and a profound effect on smaller businesses located in Forsyth that serve Mercedes. That’s the power and potential of rethinking work.”

Norton’s’ final point on the future was to become self-sufficient, especially in regards to water from Lake Lanier and areas to store it.

“We need a water initiative, like a transportation initiative, in every county in northeast Georgia. Because I’m not going to rely on the judges of the [U.S.] Supreme Court to decide my water future,” he said in reference to the decades-long legal battle over water between Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

“We’re going to grow where we want to grow. Or if we’re going to grow where we don’t want to grow, but get there anyway, how are we going to keep from getting parched?”

The breakfast event was put on by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, Lanier-Forsyth Rotary Club and Community & Southern Bank.