During his annual Native Intelligence forecast, real estate executive Frank Norton Jr. stressed that “hope is not a business plan” and that despite economic uncertainty, opportunities are available to those brave enough to take a risk.
“Pain, sadness, despair, stubbornness, embarrassment, these emotions run deep as we move into 2011. But the ever present truth is that entrepreneurship is alive and well deep in the bowels of North Georgia’s economy,” Norton said to the nearly 1,000 people who attended his presentation Jan. 20.
“Clearly, one must roll up one’s sleeves, dig deep within, risk personal and financial capital and move forward through this jungle,” he said. “North Georgia is moving forward through the jungle.”
In a theatrical presentation marked with cautious optimism, Norton unveiled his 24th Native Intelligence forecast at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville, highlighting 10 trends centered around the housing market, industry and government spending.
First, he spoke about the general economic climate and cautioned the audience that the word recovery, often thrown around during this recession, is no longer appropriate. Evolution, he said, is what the region is on the verge of.
He likened North Georgia to a man who has suffered a near-death experience that “alters the psyche, alters forever priorities, changes habits, traits and the resulting course of the future.”
He said industry will be restructured with fewer employees and smaller overhead, and people will streamline their buying to the bare necessities.
“As a society, we will shift priorities, adjust spending habits,” he said. “We will long remember this toxic shock to our system but hopefully learn from our past transgressions.”
Norton also advised the audience to forget the concept of “hitting bottom,” which he said is a psychological mirage created to impart a false sense of security.
Reality, he said, is that there are countless bottoms for different industries, some which have been hit and are rebounding, some which have been hit and are stalled and some which are nowhere near the bottom.
“It’s those with vision that ignore bottom conversations and plunge forward capitalizing on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of pricing,” he said.
Regarding the housing market, Norton said North Georgians are shifting their priorities and buying smaller homes. He said while mansions are selling in isolated instances, there is a seven-month supply of homes for sale less than $500,000 on Lake Lanier and a 10-year supply of lakefront homes selling for more than $1 million.
While cabins in the woods are selling well, there are 1,400 homes priced at more than $1 million for sale in North Georgia.
In partnership with a class at North Georgia College & State University, Norton also assessed the two main industries in North Georgia — poultry and medical — and found the medical industry has surpassed the poultry industry as the region’s largest. He said while poultry is still strong, employing more than 100,000 Georgia workers, the medical industry is simply growing at a remarkable pace as the region’s population expands.
On government, Norton had some harsh words for lawmakers, saying “taxes have become the government’s version of crack cocaine.”
As the recession hit, Norton said, government spending spiraled out of control. He noted the jail in Jackson County and the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center projects were constructed without true reflection of the overhead needed to run them.
“While businesses have swallowed the bitter pill of downsizing, local governments have been impotent in their action,” he said. “It’s hard to fathom how they can pat themselves on the back and say we’ve held your budget and we’ve held your taxes at par when most North Georgia businesses have slimmed their overhead 10, 15 or 30 percent.”
As the presentation concluded, Norton stepped down from the stage and tribal music washed over the crowd. He again stressed the importance of a competitive spirit as Georgians brave the jungle. As two live lions in green cages were rolled to the front of the stage, Norton said that like on the show “Survivor,” some people have been voted off the island.
“Outwit, outlast and outplay,” he said, “are powerful phrases.”