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Lake, retail touted as areas economic engine
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Rising lake levels have played a role in the area's economic upturn, according to a local real estate expert.

"We actually even sold a few lake houses in Lumpkin County and that's really hard to do," said Frank Norton Jr., president of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm.

"We have had the strongest sales [on the] lake, when the lake went up ... over full pool ... what happens is we have a 35 percent increase in sales on Lake Lanier."

Last week, Norton counted down a list of "things to know about Dawson County" when he spoke to the local Rotary Club Thursday morning.

The meeting was a collaboration with the local chamber of commerce, development authority, Kiwanis club and Dawsonville Lions Club.

Like the surrounding counties and into metro-Atlanta, Norton said Dawson County is experiencing a housing shortage, especially in the $150,000 market.

Replenishing that stock should be one of the first goals to further improve the economy, he said.

"When I look at house prices under $150,000, which is where the market is, there are 6,000 single-family houses available for sale in metro-Atlanta. In that market, [banks] would have been loaning all kinds of money to builders in 2006 to build product," he said.

"We've got to figure out how the shackles that we've placed as a country on the banking industry can be loosened so that the banks can go back and do what they are supposed to be doing."

"Until you can get financing, we're not going to start that business back the way it's supposed to be. We've got to get that engine started."

If the housing industry is in a state of recovery, Norton said retail is the next boon.

As in years past, he shined a spotlight on Dawson County's retail center, again calling North Georgia Premium Outlets a "mecca for value priced retail."

"You should live and breathe as a county, retail, especially for a county that is building an infrastructure on somebody else's money. When 28 percent of the shoppers in your mall here come from ... across counties to this, that's a sign of strong growth," he said. "We're going to see major retail activity in the next 12 months, and we're going to see it right here."

Chamber president Christie Haynes said it is encouraged by the county's economic potential.

"We have really seen a turn around with [the businesses] that we work with and the number of people that are now coming in, requesting information about businesses and residences," she said. "We're excited in 2014 to continue to partner so that we can continue that prosperity trend."