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Real estate expert recommends retail for recovery
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For Jackson County, one of the keys to economic recovery is retail, according to local real estate expert Frank Norton Jr.

Norton gave an update on the local economy at the Wednesday breakfast meeting of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce Norton, president of The Norton Agency, has been sharing his Native Intelligence forecast for more than two decades.

Having realistic expectations about housing and capitalizing on retail at home will help residents of Jackson County, Norton said.

And retail recovery means spending money in local stores, not at the Mall of Georgia; shopping on the square in Commerce or Jefferson or at Tanger Outlets boosts the economy of Jackson County, he said.

Buying at home means more sales tax dollars for Jackson County that will help buy new library books, add onto schools and help pay down debt for needed county services.

Money coming in from outside the county also helps, he said, referring to remarks made by Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Shane Short about out-of-county and out-of-state car tags in the parking lot at Tanger Outlets.

Norton's effort to hit the reality button focused on the need for housing for workers at new industries that have been attracted to Jackson County. He pointed to the overabundance of $700,000-plus price point homes that sit waiting to be sold.

Profits can be made on lots and homes selling for below their value, he said. And despite the many foreclosures, Norton said there have been as many houses sold in the first seven months of 2010 than in all of last year.

"That is good news, and part of what I'm calling recovery," said Norton, who points out that houses priced below $150,000 are selling. "That's the sweet spot."

Norton said he expects residential property to appreciate by 3-4 percent, giving some help to the tax base and consumer confidence. He said there is stability in the marketplace below $200,000 and there should be stability next year below $250,000.

Château Élan, which Norton predicted nearly a decade ago would grow to become its own city, is still growing and the Village at Deaton Creek is growing although not at the same pace it was in 2005-06, Norton said.

Overall, Norton said being business friendly, developing retail zones, building truck stops, fast food restaurants, family style value-priced dining experiences and enhancing exits on Interstate 85 would be good investments for Jackson County.

Norton said, "85 is our gateway" and the distribution network for the nation, and the increase in jobs along the corridor is part of the economic recovery.

"This county is in recovery," Norton said. "We have to recognize it is what it is and roll up our sleeves and do something about it."