The Power of Retail

At the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce March Board of Directors Meeting, Hall County developer Frank Norton, Jr., president of The Norton Agency, gave a powerful presentation on the impact of the retail industry in Hall County and the Northeast Georgia region.

Norton was invited to share the finding of his research with the Board of Directors through a request of the Greater Hall Chamber and the Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Council (EDC). Earlier this year, the Economic Development Council voted to undertake a retail initiative, as the EDC focus is not just on new industrial prospects and local industry expansions, but also to keep watch on the overall financial health of the community and to increase our tax base.

Norton’s research and statistics were at once informative and alarming.

Trends reflect Hall County’s loss of dollars to surrounding counties. He noted about 19% of Hall’s tax digest comes from commercial activity, compared to 61% residential, 15% industrial and 5% in timber and agriculture.

In comparison, Gwinnett County figures show that 32% of the tax digest comes from commercial activity, 57% residential, 10% industrial and 1% in timber and agriculture.

The Norton Agency’s 2003 data also showed shopping patterns of consumers in Hall. Norton said that 16% of shoppers at the Wal-Mart in Buford are from Hall County and 16% of North Georgia Premium Outlet shoppers in Dawson County are from Hall, the largest percentage of any county whose residents shop at the Dawsonville center.

Norton encouraged area business and civic leaders to initiate a major retail initiative in economic development efforts. Such a move would expand the county’s tax base through increased revenue collections.

He suggested the retail initiative include support for new “big box” retail establishments (such as PetSmart, Wal Mart, etc.); a plan to keep Hall County shoppers here; and the preservation of land for a potential mall site on I-985 in the Oakwood/Flowery Branch area. A retail center in Hall County, he said, would open up a new market in Hall County for retail spending now going to Gwinnett County.

Norton stated that Gainesville was founded on commerce. It began more than 170 years ago with wagons around the city’s downtown square, where merchants from all over Northeast Georgia converged to trade their wares. He stressed the need to maintain our status as a regional trade center and our identity as the “Northeast Georgia Market Basket.”

It is imperative that all the partners of the Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Council continue their public/private partnerships, both actively and financaially. With the Economic Development Council behind this retail effort, and other economic development initiatives, I am confident we will be successful… together!