Story by J.K. Devine
“We are not just a franchise that sends its profits to New Jersey, we reinvest our money right here in North Georgia alongside our partners, making money with them, not off of them,” said Frank Norton Jr., who is the CEO of The Norton Agency.
Known as a generational diversified financial services business with deep entrepreneurial DNA, the Norton Agency is considered a principle business in Gainesville and Hall County with deep roots, commitment and involvement in the community.
Started as an insurance company in 1928 by W.L. Norton Sr., the family-owned company has expanded its reach into surrounding counties and grown its services and influence. But it started as a small business staffed with all family members. “Our father, mother and grandfather had to do a little bit of everything to make a living in Norton’s early years, learning to rock and roll on the swings of the economy and market dynamics,” Norton said.
The impact the Norton Agency has made on Hall County is measurable. In 1937, W. L. Norton began the first planned residential neighborhood development in the community. Purchasing the plantation land of Confederate General William Longstreet from his widow and offering FHA financing, he and two partners developed Longstreet Hills.
Other developments followed through the years. Examples are the first apartment project known as Moss Hills; the first privately owned golf community, Royal Lakes; the first historic renovation on Green Street; the first major historic renovation conversion in downtown on the Hunt Tower; and the first multi-specialty medical campus, Medical Arts. “We build community,” Frank Norton Jr. said. “By our example, others followed and have created a powerful quality of life.”
Each additional family member to join the business has brought his or her own talents. When Frank Norton Jr. joined the business in 1986, he collected and interpreted market research data and developed consulting and strategic planning services for the firm. The addition has helped power the business to a statewide and southeastern regional level. “We believe our data should be shared, interpreted and discussed,” Norton said. “We don’t criticize, but we do challenge community leaders to do better and think better. That data and interpretation sharing lifts all boats.”
Norton did not always want to be part of the family business. “While I grew up at the dinner table learning real estate, I first thought I wanted to be a dentist, then an architect, but I went off to Georgia Tech to become the ‘family builder,’” he said, Norton worked for a national real estate firm for nine years before he ventured home to join the family business and raise a family. By working for the family business, he said he feels humbled and burdened to strengthen the good name and good work set as an example by our parents and grandparents. “We strive to live up to their community stewardship, connectivity, and involvement,” Norton said, adding it’s not always been easy. “We have been through 13 downturns and 13 upturns. We have learned to twist, turn and evolve to meet the community’s demands and building a stronger company day by day.”
With a legacy spanning 91 years, the Norton family considers the firm a foundation on which to build the future. “With now four members of the next generation of the family working in various aspects of our business, we are starting to see a fourth-generation contribute their talents to the common family goal,” Norton said. “The Norton Agency will continue to be fiercely community-minded and continue to call this place home.”
Norton considers helping build a viable community that attracts his family and friends to Hall County is the highlight of his career. It also is what makes the business special to him.
“It’s the personal relationships with our business family becoming our extended family,” he said. “Business, arts, recreation and education is woven into a fantastic life, not just a living.”