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Frank Norton Jr. urges North Georgia to push becoming 2nd-home market
Region could attract affluent city dwellers seeking leisure options, real estate executive says
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Frank Norton Jr. speaks at his 28th annual economic forecast Wednesday in Gainesville. Norton said he believes collaboration is key. - photo by Erin O. Smith

North Georgia should strive to become a “second-home mecca” for affluent Atlantans seeking weekend escape, real estate executive Frank Norton Jr. said during his annual Native Intelligence report Wednesday night at the Gainesville Civic Center.

“Our geography is too compelling for us not to capitalize on positioning,” he said. “North Georgia ... sits directly on top of 6 million people, projected to grow to 12 million by 2050.”

Hall County has the most second homes in the region, at 7,916, with an average value of $510,000 and representing 11.6 percent of its total housing. Second homes in Rabun County have the highest average value in the region, $700,000, and they make up nearly half the county’s housing.

The region “needs to shift (its) conventional thinking to promote living here,” Norton said.

And the timing is right, he said, as “we are witnessing an urbanization of Atlanta, a melding of downtown, Midtown and Buckhead and an emergence of retrofitted urban warrior communities” such as West Midtown, King Street, West End, Cabbagetown and Reynoldtown.

The population “that is emerging is young, affluent, energy-sparked, and more and more (are seeking) the thrill of living in a cosmopolitan city by week and escaping by weekend to something different,” he said.

North Georgia is “something different,” with its range of outdoor adventures, such as rock climbing, whitewater rafting and hiking, as well as wineries and farm-to-table restaurants.

“Second homes are a county’s best, purest tax revenue,” Norton said. “The owners shop in our grocery stores, eat in our restaurants as regulars, play golf, hike, ski and leave their tax dollars behind.

“They rarely ever borrow a library book, access our social services, seek medical care, cause fire or police stress or much less vote and change the local political climate. Their needs are simple: environment, escape and something different.”

High-speed Internet running through North Georgia Network “will keep (second-home owners) connected to their 24/7 work commitments, Amazon store purchases and latest Facebook posts,” Norton said.

Norton mentioned four other “big, bold ideas” in his 28th economic outlook.

He said work should be redefined.

“The era of remote assemblage, weaving or cut-and-sew operations is gone,” Norton said. “The industrial recruitment machined to attract those industries and those locations is just whistling in the wind.

“Today’s sophisticated industrial user is all about logistics, transportation or accessibility to national interstates and rails if not global marketplaces via Savannah ports.”

Norton also said governments should work together better.

“Why does Hall County have nine collective governments, why does Jackson have nine collective governments, why does Barrow County have eight collective governments?” he asked. “That means government on steroids.”

Norton said, “Imagine the power, if not the test scores, that a combined Gainesville/Hall County School System might have.”

He said the region also needs to preserve its heritage, including creating a community fund to “preserve and protect landmark properties through some sort of alliance.”

Also, citing Forsyth County’s recent passage of a referendum for $200 million in transportation improvements, “couldn’t we do the same for water?”

Hall County is planning the 850-acre Glade Farm reservoir, “but much more is needed,” Norton said.

“Our control of water and control over our destiny has been limited to running water lines, not building storage basins.”

Area counties “will find themselves scrambling for water by 2030 if they don’t take some preventative action now,” Norton said.

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