Dawson County is Mecca.
Those were the words of Frank Norton, spoken at the 2013 Eggs and the Economy breakfast, presented Feb. 28 by the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club.
Norton, CEO and chairman of the Norton Agency, a real estate firm in Gainesville, is known throughout the area for his economic forecasts and insights.
His reference to the county as Mecca comes from Dawson Countys being a retail hub, particularly along the Ga. 400 corridor.
Seventy-five percent or so of the business done at Kroger is (from) outside your county, he said. Its not just the outlets. Theyre coming to the outlets, but then theyre going to go get a loaf of bread on the way home. And Home Depot, and Walmart. And what you have is, youve created an economic attractor which is having major ripple effects. So do we need more retail? Dawson County doesnt need any more retail, but we need more retail for the people who arent Dawson Countians.
It was an observation with which Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes agreed.
What we really took from it is that were a hub for this region, she said. We do (car) tag checks a lot here at the Chamber ... and I think what he talked about today really spoke to what Ive seen, she said. The license plates you see are not all Dawson County, so the people who are looking to open retail businesses, or develop and expand their business here, we really are an excellent place to do that.
Overall, Norton presented an optimistic outlook on the economy in general, and in Dawson County specifically. He spent much of his time discussing the housing market.
When I stood up here four years ago, and I said we were awash with property and it was going to be years and years before we got rid of all of the property ... I need to confess, I was wrong, he said. Four years ago, there were 65,000 standing inventory of single-family houses in Atlanta, Ga. Today, theres 13,000.
More locally, he said that about $400 million in property traded hands in Dawson in 2005. In this past year, under $100 million traded hands, he said. So were roughly 22 percent down in terms of total activity.
District One Commissioner Gary Pichon said Nortons overall view of credit-worthy, younger families and households means that the county needs to look to how to provide more affordable housing. One of the things that he pointed out was, youre going to have to have a place for people with regular income and regular credit, Pichon noted.
Norton concluded his speech by telling his audience, Youve got to have a game plan, both personally and professionally.
Knowing the economys improving, knowing that credits going to be tight, knowing that theres tremendous opportunity ... what are you going to do next? How are you going to capitalize on that? he asked.