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Norton to give annual economic forecast
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Real estate executive Frank Norton Jr. will present his annual Native Intelligence business report tonight at the Georgia Mountains Center for the 23rd time.

Norton, president of the Norton Agency in Gainesville, said this year’s economic forecast will also focus on the top 10 trends, leaders and events of the decade. But Norton said he will spend a "great deal of time" discussing what’s happening in today’s markets.

"I think most everyone is very interested in the market today — not the market in a history — but what’s happening in the office market or industrial market or residential today," Norton said. "We will be citing real examples of transactions that are happening. We won’t go into hard-core numbers, but we are going to show that traditional business is still taking place throughout Northeast Georgia."

Norton’s forecast comes one day after data showed that the housing market remains a significant risk to the national economy after bad weather across much of the country hit the construction industry.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that construction of new homes and apartments fell 4 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 557,000, from an upwardly revised 580,000 in November. Applications for future projects, however, increased strongly as the industry ramps up for the spring selling season.

The results were lower than the 580,000 forecast by economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters, and were led by declines of 19 percent in the Northeast and Midwest. Construction fell 1 percent in the West, but rose more than 3 percent in the South.

The building industry has dramatically scaled back construction amid the worst housing bust in decades. Thousands of foreclosed homes have been dumped on the market at bargain prices that make it difficult for the builders to compete.

Another source of worry is that lending standards are also tightening. The Federal Housing Administration, a primary source of funding for first-time homebuyers, said Wednesday it would raise fees and tighten lending standards to shore up its strapped finances.

Norton said that he will discuss the "harsh realities" of today’s economy that he says transcend county lines and geopolitical districts.

"But the trends point to different kinds of opportunities that lie in between what I refer to as the good, the bad and the ugly," Norton said. "What you have to do is understand it is what it is and how you, as a business person, can shape your own business to innovate, to capture new market segments."

Norton’s economic forecast will begin at 6 p.m. at the Georgia Mountains Center following an hour of refreshments. It is open to the public and no admission is charged.

"We’re sharing what we know about the marketplace with the North Georgia community," Norton said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.