For Hall County - and the rest of North Georgia, for that matter - to grow responsibly in 2016, area leaders are going to have to make housing affordable, invest in the millennial generation and stop ignoring the diversity of the population. That was the assessment of marketing expert Frank Norton, Jr., who unveiled his annual Norton Native Intelligence report Thursday night in Gainesville.
For the last three decades, Norton has been analyzing market trends in Hall and surrounding counties.
More than 300 people turned out at the Gainesville Civic Center to hear Norton outline his "Five Bold Ideas" for 2016.
*Fix affordable housing before it fixes us
Norton, the CEO/Chairman of Norton Holdings, knows real estate because his family has been in the real estate business since 1928. He told his audience the lack of affordable housing is a nationwide problem, but he sees it trickling down to Hall County and other counties in the region. Norton noted that home ownership peaked at 67% in 2006 and is now at the 63% level. He cautioned that living in an apartment or rental home could be the norm in the near future if high housing costs are not addressed.
*Invest in millennials
Norton said he's noticed plenty of younger people - or millennials - visiting the region, but the trick is getting them to put down roots here. He said local governments will have to show millennials that the region has what the generation wants and needs to make the area home.
*Admit the realities of our diversity and embrace them
Promoting diversity was another component of Norton's 2016 report. He said the idea is not to set up separate communities of various minority groups, but the melding of different populations into healthy communities. For Hall County, said Norton, that means "being conscious of 39.1% of your population [Hispanic population] and improving the public safety, economic stability and education mobility of that population."
*Embrace life at 500,000
Norton said all indicators point to Hall and Forsyth counties reaching the 500,000 population mark in the coming years. He noted the two counties will have much different personalities, so to speak, with Forsyth County being more white collar in demographics, while Hall County's economy will continue to be made up of manufacturing and food processing. He cautioned leaders to prepare especially for traffic and access issues.
Norton told his audience that he has cautioned local governments for the last 10 years against over-regulation and excessive impact and utility fees that make the area seem "anti-business." He urged local governments to "slash regulations, streamline paperwork and think cause and effect when proposing a new regulation, fees or ordinances."
The full content of Norton's research is available online at www.nortonintelligence.com.