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Nortons economic forecast is Thursday
Real estate guru says regional economy in recovery mode
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Norton Native Intelligence Report

When: Thursday; prefunction activities begin at 5 p.m., presentation begins at 6 p.m., followed by reception

Where: Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville

Cost: Free

Economic forecasts in recent years have seemed to be an endless stream of bad news.

Local real estate guru and economic trend detector Frank Norton aims to reverse that trend - though not without some notes of caution.

"We are in a recovery," Norton told The Times of Gainesville. "It is going to be a slow, protracted recovery. But we are doing better."

Norton will deliver his annual Native Intelligence forecast Thursday at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville.

This will be Norton's 25th report in which he talks about indicators of local and national economic trends. Norton compiles data throughout the region in an effort to get a pulse on the economy. The event has drawn as many as 1,000 gatherers in the past.

"I don't think I've ever missed," said Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. "Frank seems to bring in a whole lot of (business) people from the region to hear what he says."

This year, Norton says, there will be particularly good news for Northeast Georgia.

"This community is feeling better than the other regions in the state if not the nation," he said, pointing out the regions' health- and agricultural-based industries are contributing to growth and stabilizing the job market.

In last year's forecast, Norton warned of holding expectations that the economy wouldn't recover to what it once was.

Instead, he said, the economy and the consumers and businesses that functioned would evolve.

That evolution, he said last week, involves both consumers and industries cutting back costs. He said that change has already taken hold in Northeast Georgia.

"We are changing our buying habits," he said.

"Average people are buying average goods and services, average homes and having average credit."

In other words, most Northeast Georgians are living within their means, he said.

One particular trend Norton will highlight is the tendency for residents to spend more time focusing at home.

He calls that their "nest."

He said people are eating out less, watching more cooking shows and entertaining guests at home more.

"They are no longer viewing their homes as a nest egg, but truly a nest," he said.

Additionally, consumers are also spending more money "improving their nests," he said. Norton talked to business owners involved in home remodeling who reported an uptick in business in the later half of 2011.

To compile his final report, Norton looks at both traditional data and fairly nonconventional signs.

Positive feedback from business owners and consumers was part of what went into the analysis.

Another part was the increase of Christmas lights around the holidays.

"It seems to me, that's part of the recovery," said Norton, explaining that the lights were a signal that more residents were feeling better.