Dawson County retained its ranking as the nation’s 11th fastest growing county in a recent survey by the U.S Census Bureau, but officials say the numbers don’t reflect the recent economic downturn.
Released last week, the survey covers January 2005 to December 2007, just months before the housing market in Dawson County and north Georgia began to slip.
Kristie Myers, an associate broker with Keller Williams Realty, said the statistics for 2008 don’t show the same growth that Dawson County experienced the past several years.
“Last year in Dawson County there were 334 residential detached sales compared with 232 thus far for 2008,” she said.
Residential lot statistics also have fallen, with just 17 sales this year and a current inventory of more than 300 active listings, Myers said.
Thursday, members of the state Senate and House Economic Development committees met to discuss Georgia’s housing market and its effects on other industries.
Co-chaired by Sen. Chip Pearson of Dawsonville and Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah, the group was joined by experts in the building and real estate industries to discuss what the state could do to ease the downturn.
“The housing market slump is a multifaceted issue and declines in this industry are affecting peripheral industries such as banking, local jobs, automotives and retail,” Pearson said in a statement. “Now is the time to implement policies that will help us ride out these difficult times and provide solutions for the future.”
Pearson said Friday, “The next step is to look at what we can do, whether it is a stimulus plan for the state, tax credits or maybe down payment assistance to buyers.”
Linda Williams, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, said she has seen those ripple effects with merchants and residents on a daily basis.
“Our businesses are telling us they are challenged for sales, our builder and construction members especially,” she said.
In addition, fewer people are asking about how to start new businesses.
“The lending institutions are more restrictive, and people are relying on personal savings or personal loans,” Williams said.
David Doss, who helps the chamber distribute newcomer materials through a local outreach ministry, said he has seen a big drop in the number of residential real estate transactions.
“We were seeing as many as 60-75 new move-ins a month last year,” Doss said. “That’s dropped off in the last year to 25-35 a month.”
He said the majority of the homes being sold are in the Red Hawk Ridge subdivision in the city limits, where prices start in the mid $100s.
“Places like Chestatee and Gold Creek were doing fine, but that’s changed now,” he said.
The upscale golf and lake communities also felt the economic hit in the last year, with foreclosures and fewer sales. Both neighborhoods feature pricing beginning in the high $200s to over $1 million.
Dawson County School Superintendent Nicky Gilleland said the housing slump and job losses have also affected the school system, which began building new schools a few years ago based on projected enrollment numbers.
A second middle school opened this fall and a new elementary school is set to open in 2009. Gilleland said the economy started to slip about the same time bids went out for the elementary school on Dawson Forest Road.
“2007 was a pretty good year, but 2008 has not been the same,” he said.
“We only registered 75 new students, where as each year (previously) we usually see between 150 and 200.”
There were talks about holding off on the new elementary school, Gilleland said, but a delay could have resulted in higher construction costs.
As it stands, Gilleland said the school system will be ready when the housing market picks up.
Myers said she believes Dawson County will recover more quickly than other areas of the country “by virtue of the abundance of natural amenities we are blessed to enjoy.”
“With the lake and mountains in your back yard and traffic and congestion hardly an issue, when housing gears back up, Dawson County will be positioned to come back very strongly,” she said.
E-mail Michele Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org.