Frank Norton, CEO and chairman of The Norton Agency in Gainesville, focused on leadership and big bold ideas in his 28th annual Native Intelligence business forecast for 2015.
We as a community are well past the time for us to rise up out of the rubble of this past recession... and move aggressively forward, he told a gathering on Jan. 14 at the Gainesville Civic Center.
The Norton Agency,
which began 87 years ago, has real estate and insurance operations in 19 locations in Northeast Georgia and sells property across 59 counties.
As for those bold ideas, Norton believes the No. 1 bold idea would be to turn North Georgia into a second home mecca.
Were not just talking about the occasional second home purchase or mountain cabin construction, he said. Were talk- ing about an all-out, all-in second home marketing promotion mindset. The base foundation has already been set we have second homes built and used throughout the North Georgia region but the geographic is too compelling for us not to better capitalize on positioning.
He noted that the fact that Northeast Georgia is only one hour to 1 12 hours away from the largest potential second home buyer demographic in the south.
Northeast Georgia with its rolling mountains, forested ridges and settled valleys sits on top of six million people (in 2014), and this number is projected to grow to 12 million in 2050, he said.
One interesting chart showed that places like Rabun and Towns county already have 48 percent of its total housing in second homes. Dawson County has 19 percent in second homes. But other counties have much less. White County has 16.3 percent, Habersham has 11.3 percent and even Lumpkin County has only 11.5 percent.
Other bold ideas were:
Refocus the definition of work
The reality of getting a major industrial user, manufacturer, assemblage or distribution center in downtown Cleveland, Clayton, Ellijay and Dahlonega is slim to none, he said.
These locations need to go after small entrepreneur business seeking a business climate set inside a lifestyle small research and development, small service, small technology.
Its time to talk collaboration
As Norton Native Intelligence travels the hills and valley of our region, we are amazed at the flashes of greatness, brilliance of ideas, energy, intelligence and creative, but dismayed at the turfdom that has been created between city vs. city, city vs. county and county vs. county, he said. This bogs down those same ideas, intelligence and creativity.
Imagine the progress that could be made in Dawson with combined Dawsonville/Dawson County collaboration, he noted, and gave other examples in other counties.
He added: Collaboration should be on the mind of everyone as we move forward in the new economy.
Norton noted the sense of place in Northeast Georgia, and touted such groups as the Sautee Nacoochee Center, Hambidge Center in Rabun County, White County Historical Society, Quinlan Arts Center in Hall County, Foxfire in Rabun County, Hardman Farm in White County, Elachee Science & Nature Center in Hall and Smithgall Woods in White County.
Our bold challenge is to preserve our heritage, bottle that North Georgia spirit before its too late, he said.
Norton noted the importance of communities making sure they had adequate water supplies for future needs.
Water, or lack of water, could equally strangle a local economy, its tax base and torch its quality of life, he said.
Norton noted that some counties have come out of the recession of 2008 stronger than others.
He listed Northeast Georgiashottest counties in 2015-2020 as Gwinnett, Forsyth, Cherokee, Jackson and Hall.
The best counties for long term investment (2015-2045) are Dawson, Barrow, Walton, Cherokee and Jackson, he said.
Counties to watch in 2015 to 2020, he said, are Gwinnett, Hall, Jackson, Franklin and Union.
Norton noted that counties of concern in 2015 are White, Habersham, Stephens, Madison and Hart. And you could put Rabun in that group too.
Norton said the counties of concern havent recovered (from the recession) as the other surrounding counties.
In White, the issue is transportation, he said. There are no four-lane corridors leading to Ga. 400 or I-985, which limited the potential for new industry.
He said the collapse of two major banks in Habersham County has had an effect on that community,
Collaboration among city and county also is an important obstacle to overcome, he said. I believe we are searching (in Northeast Georgia) for the right size government, and should be looking for efficiencies in government wherever we can find them.
In White County, Norton said he believes there will be growth in moderately priced second homes.
There will be a lot more cabins in the woods than mansions on the mountains, he said.
But really, theres great potential in Lumpkin, Habersham and White, he said. Again, much of it comes down to strong leadership.