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Norton: Economy takes toll on Georgia
Frank Norton Jr. delivers his annual Native Intelligence economic forecast Thursday evening at the Georgia Mountains Center.

A few hard doses of reality and a number of bright spots for the future were included in Gainesville real estate executive Frank Norton Jr.’s annual Native Intelligence report Thursday night at the Georgia Mountains Center.

Norton, who has presented his forecast for 21 years, offered his perspective on Northeast Georgia with a major change in the marketplace.

Norton said that the once robust economy is now having an effect on the real estate market.

"Ribbons of bleached concrete and unfinished residential developments stick out like carcasses of beached whales," Norton said in his annual report. "A hard dose of reality has come home, and the signs of these times are ever present."

Norton said he believes the inventory of new and resale homes has peaked and foresees a slow but steady climb through 2008.

The report showed that estate sales in Hall County declined by 13.74 percent in 2007, compared to a year earlier.

Among his other trends, Norton said that, considering the time it takes to clear bureaucratic hurdles, there is the potential for a shortage of building lots in years to come.

The report said that it can take from 18 to 48 months, depending on the county, to go from contracting to buy the property to the process of initiating construction.

On the subject of water, Norton suggested political officials are not concerned until a crisis occurs.

"Only when we reach the depth of a 100- year drought does anyone take notice," Norton said. "The clear and present danger is that, with a little rainfall, it will take the pressure off. It will relax the opinions of the politicians in Atlanta. I want them to be sucking mud and they’ll do something about it."

Norton said the growth of the Hispanic population moving into the region has stopped.

"Hispanic population in the apartments and mobile home rental components has shrunk as much as 35 percent in certain micromarkets," he said. "The poultry industry is feeling the effects of a shrinking migrant Hispanic labor pool and is being forced to step up recruiting and retention programs to maintain productivity."

Norton said, however, that the population continues to grow through the birth of children.

He called the announcement that the maximum ceiling on boat docks on Lake Lanier had been reached the most significant event since the lake was built.

"If you have a permit, renew it. If you’re warned for any infraction, immediately act on it. The loss of your boat dock could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in value," he said.

Among the more upbeat trends is a prediction of an upswing in retail shopping opportunities.

"Once the Mall of Georgia opened, it was clear that Gainesville no longer offered the county’s population the shopping alternatives the changing demographics sought," Norton said.

He said the expansion of retail in South Hall with the opening of the Wal-Mart in Oakwood and Stonebridge Center at Flowery Branch brings the total retail space to over 2 million square feet and will regain shoppers lost to Gwinnett’s retail base.

"One local authority believes today one Wal-Mart produces as much revenue and its municipalities as the sole Lakeshore Mall," he said. "Keeping shoppers home and bringing outside tax dollars by offering unique shopping venues will mark Hall County’s success or failure through the rest of this decade."

Regional events