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Norton says region’s economy is stabilizing

POSTED: January 25, 2012 4:00 a.m.

Despite what the Mayan calendar and a Hollywood blockbuster projected, 2012 is not the end of the world but the "dawn" of a new one.

At least that was the economic forecast given by Norton Agency President Frank Norton at the Georgia Mountains Center on Jan. 19.

Norton told an audience of a few hundred regional business leaders and public officials that the Northeast Georgia and national economies are stabilizing into a new reality in which consumers spend within their means and businesses are pulling out of trouble by learning to do more with less.

"We've awakened from a long, gluttonous carnage of an indulgence of our own making and are embarking on a wild, undiscovered journey of full life before us," he said.

Norton annually gives his Native Intelligence forecast, attempting to report the pulse of the Northeast Georgia economy and real estate market.

As is tradition, the presentation - which is part-prophecy, part-pep rally and part-sales pitch - was nothing if not theatrical.

At the end of his speech, Norton walked off the stage to encourage the audience to "invest in America" while a raptor handler walked on stage with a bald eagle flapping its wings. The iconic bird seemed right at home with the American flags and red, white and blue balloons adorning the arena.

This spectacle followed the one from 2011, in which caged jungle cats were brought on the stage after the presentation.

With Norton starting his forecast from the premise that Northeast Georgia was in a new era, he offered a list of trends, political policy wish lists and investment tips to promote the economy and build wealth.

The real-estate guru encouraged consumers to shop local in order to promote job growth. He also demanded that government leaders hire local contractors and consultants, as well. The latter statement received a hardy round of applause.

Never afraid to go out on a limb, Norton listed what his policy objectives would be if he were made "housing industry czar."

He appealed for decreased housing and building regulations and proposed allowing homebuyers to use IRA or 401(k) savings for home purchases.

After a disclaimer that his forecast is intended to present data and "help you make your own decisions" in navigating the economy, Norton highlighted his own industry's interest. He argued that stabilizing the housing market is essential to economic recovery and encouraged smart investors to buy large plots of land.

"Land could be the future currency," he said.

Norton doesn't hide the notion that much of his appeal supports the interest and promotion of his company - yellow Norton logos were nearly as prevalent as the American flags in the arena - while also providing a "public service."

Norton's forecast, he says, comes from regional data his company studies and from interviews with local leaders.

Bob Norton, Frank's brother and president of Norton Insurance, said the presentation is an interpretation of that data that's meant to be "challenging, thought-provoking and insightful."

Larry Summers, of Dawson County, attended the event, largely out of an interest in that local data.

Summers works in corporate electronic systems integration on a national level, but appreciated the local spin Norton offers.

"It's hard to get local data that is that thorough," Summers said.

Of Norton's conclusions, Summers said they were largely on target.

"I agree with about 90 percent of it," he said.


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