When Frank Norton Jr. talks about the economy of north Georgia, people listen. That was the case again last week as Norton presented his annual Native Intelligence economic forecast to a receptive audience at the Lanier Tech Conference Center.
For the most part, Norton’s message was one of optimism for Forsyth County. The real estate and insurance executive noted that Forsyth was closer to reaching the peak real estate transaction numbers recorded in 2006-07 than any of the other 22 counties in the north Georgia area, and is leading the region in economic development.
Norton found many positive things to say about the county’s development, specifically noting the excellence of the school system and the overall quality of life, including a very favorable local tax rate.
“You’ve been able to build what you’ve built by maintaining a reasonable tax structure for this county and that’s the grand attractor,” he told the crowd.
Ga. 400 is “a power axis” for economic growth in Forsyth, he noted, and will continue to be for years to come as new residents and commercial entities make the decision to locate here.
But Norton also offered a few cautionary words that county leadership needs to take to heart.
He noted that continued investment in infrastructure is vital, especially considering that the county’s population is going to continue to grow at a phenomenal rate for many more years. He said developing the “underground economy” of water and sewer lines now is essential to handling future growth.
Norton also noted the continued importance of attracting more commercial development to the county to offset residential growth, which he projected could triple Forsyth’s population in the next 30 years.
He also said it was important for the county to develop more affordable housing so that it did not continue to be both an “importer” and “exporter” of labor, with no housing available for those in lower end jobs. Norton said it was vital to balance out housing on “millionaire row” with housing available at multiple price points.
Overall the annual Intelligence report was extremely positive, but we would do well to heed the precautionary warnings about infrastructure investment, commercial development and housing diversity if we want the county’s economic engine to continue to be a high performance model.