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Expert sees retail impact
3 Norton pic
Frank Norton Jr. and Dawson County Commissioner Gary Pichon talk during last weeks meeting of the Rotary Club of Dawson County. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

An area real estate and economic expert views Dawson County as a beacon for shoppers and encouraged the community to pay close attention to the "tremendous potential" of Ga. 400.

"You're attracting retail here, which is attracting housing here, which will attract business here, which will improve here," Frank Norton Jr. said. "We are now mecca - not to worship, they are coming to spend money."

Norton, president of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, stressed the impact of the North Georgia Premium Outlets during his Feb. 28 address to the Rotary Club of Dawson County. The meeting was a collaboration with the local chamber of commerce and Kiwanis club.

"You see people leaving Dawson County with bags full of stuff, leaving their taxes here," he said. "When you go to Mall of Georgia or Northpoint Mall, what you see is people walking in an air-conditioned park. You don't see as many bags leaving there."

According to Norton, 75 percent of every dollar spent locally comes from outside Dawson County.

"You are north Forsyth's retail ... and that momentum isn't going to stop. You are mecca for retail for all of north Atlanta," he said. "Dawson County doesn't need more retail, but we need more retail for the people who aren't from Dawson County."

Commission Chair Mike Berg said Norton's assessment of the local economic outlook is "spot on."

"He's right. Anytime you can get other people to spend their money here and live somewhere else, where we don't have to put up the infrastructure in, we're in a wonderful situation," Berg said.

"People come from outside because they're drawn either by the outlet mall or they're coming through here. We have a huge amount of people from outside the county. Again, they put their tax dollars here and they go home, and that's great."

Christie Haynes, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes new businesses considering Dawson are as encouraged as she is by Norton's view of Ga. 400's economic potential.

"One thing I think the presentation showed is that this is a great place for retail businesses to open," she said. "Like Frank mentioned, we have all of the people that come from all the surrounding areas, not just Dawson County and Dawsonville for our shopping. Retail industry that is looking for a place to build right now or just come and open a business, we are a great place to open a business.

"We've tried to put that message out there and we're hoping to use some of this information to continue to put that message out there and grow our businesses in Dawson County."

While Norton's outlook on retail potential was positive, he said Dawson, like other counties along the Ga. 400 corridor, is in need of affordable housing.

"We sold more houses under $150,000 in Dawson County than we have in the last seven [years], but that tells me there is still a market for average people with average credit buying average houses," he said.

"Average people with average credit buying average houses is the north Georgia market. But we're out of inventory."