Area economic expert bullish about Forsyth's future

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Frank Norton Jr. believes in Forsyth County.

“I’m bullish about Forsyth, and about your future,” said Norton, an area real estate and economic expert. “You have so much going for you. You have position, you have strength, you have geographic position. You have a tax base.

“If you look at the [return] of what I pay in taxes and what I get here, it’s amazing. You have school test scores that are the envy of the entire Southeast.”

Norton, chairman and CEO of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, was the keynote speaker Jan. 26 during the annual Economic Outlook Breakfast organized by the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce.

During his presentation at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center, Norton mentioned the county’s countless amenities, but also encouraged its leaders and residents to look toward the future.

Norton drew on data from the Norton Native Intelligence report for 2016, the 30th forecast made by his company. It covered not only Forsyth, but several northeast Georgia counties.

One issue Norton said he believes the area will face is affordable housing.

“I talk about affordable housing in the context of metro Atlanta, with $175,000 average,” he said. “This affordable housing problem is going to affect you. If we lose affordable housing in Dawson and Cherokee and Gwinnett and Hall, where are your teachers — who you have probably already lost and are commuting in — going to live?”

According to Norton, homes under $175,000 could be gone 2020 and town homes in that range could follow by 2023. He also said home building was finally bouncing back from the economic downturn.

“We are headed back up. We sold more houses in metro Atlanta in 2015 than in 2007,” Norton said. “We aren’t to 2006, when we had the crazy money out there, but we are selling more houses.”

Also looking toward the future, Norton said Forsyth should be getting ready for even more growth. Projections show the county could have half a million residents by the 2040s.

“I’ve been thinking about size … what is this county going to be like at 500,000 people? We need to understand and blueprint life at 500,000 people,” he said. “We really need to blueprint because we need to have water.

“We need to be building infrastructure and we need to be building water resources and transportation resources for 500,000 people. I don’t want this to be a shout in the dark. I want this to be an active conversation.”