Town gets ‘strategic direction adviser’

The Nashville Town Council has hired a consulting firm to help guide its “strategic direction” for at least the next few months.

Dax Norton, of MS Consultants in Indianapolis, is building a new branch of the consulting firm to focus on small communities that recently lost their town manager or can’t afford to have one.

In a special meeting on June 14, the town council voted to sign a contract with MS Consulting.

Nashville is one of three Indiana communities Norton is now helping part-time.

Nashville has been without a town manager/economic development director since Scott Rudd left that job last August to become the state’s director of broadband opportunities, a new job in the cabinet of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. Before Rudd, the town hadn’t had a manager in 10 years, and it had never had an economic development director.

In the May council meeting where he pitched his services, Norton explained that what he does isn’t really town “managing,” and he doesn’t really like the term “economic development,” either.

He will be known as the community development/strategic direction adviser, or “strategic direction adviser” for short.

His role will be “to assist with the overall, long-term economic and social health of Nashville,” he said by email June 21.

He said he will not be doing the same thing that the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau does, which is marketing Nashville and Brown County to outside visitors; his job will be focused more on residents’ quality of life and on attracting private investment.

“Tourism economic development is much different than community development,” he said at the special meeting in which his contract was approved. “Community development is really for your internal audience, your residents that live here, what betters their quality of life. Economic development is a subset of that. I don’t like to use the word ‘economic development.’ It’s more like economic vitality. People hear ‘development’ and think tract neighborhoods and 100,000-square-foot buildings, and that’s not necessarily what that means. What the tourism folks do, that compliments what we do,” he said.

“There are a lot of great articles out there that say if the residents aren’t happy, or if the residents don’t have a great quality of life, you will lose the tourists eventually, regardless of where you are.”

Norton has more than 20 years of experience in this field.

He has served as town manager of Whitestown, executive director of the Indiana Office Of Community and Rural Affairs, executive director of the Boone County Economic Development Corporation and executive director of the Blackford County Economic Development Corporation.

He was a managing partner in a small business in Bloomington, Harmony General Stores, from 1997 to 2005, was the director of member services for the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, and has served on the Zionsville redevelopment commission and economic development corporation, the Lebanon Convention and Visitors Commission, and the board of Accelerate Indiana Municipalities.

Norton is contracted to work in Nashville for “up to one day each week of each month,” plus attend two meetings per month. He also will do more work remotely.

Other duties specified in his contract include answering planning and zoning-related questions; doing daily monitoring and management of the town’s website and social media accounts; public relations; helping with comprehensive plan and economic plan review; advising the town on the selection of new contractors and consultants; reviewing various policies and codes; informing the town of grant opportunities and helping to apply for them; reviewing current infrastructure systems including water and sewer, stormwater, pedestrian paths and roads; and additional services when authorized by the town council, for an extra fee.

MS Consultants includes professionals in other fields, such as engineering, architecture, planning and environmental consulting. Those also would be available outside this contract at hourly rates.

Town council members liked the depth of experience that Norton and MS Consultants brought to the table. They also said they like that Norton will be looking at Nashville from an outside perspective.

The contract is for 12 months at $3,250 per month, for a total of $39,000 per year. It can be canceled at any time with 30 days’ notice.

Rudd, the former full-time town manager/economic director, was making $51,000 plus benefits.

The vote to hire MS Consulting was 4-1 with council member Anna Hofstetter against. She brought up concerns she’d heard from the public, such as the amount of money the town was paying for the minimum time commitment Norton would have to give to the job.

She also was curious about what other options could be available, such as advertising locally for a part-time person. MS Consultants pitched the idea for this job to the council; the council did not advertise for a person or firm to do it.

Norton said that there’s no other program like this at any firm in the state.

Council member Nancy Crocker said the town could explore other options while Norton was contracted for this year, but at least they’d have “kind of a transition.”

“If a there’s a part-time person out there with that background, I’d love to talk with them,” said council member Alisha Gredy.

Norton said the point of what’ he’s doing is “not to take jobs away from town managers in the state”; it’s to help communities that are in an interim situation not to stay that way, so that they don’t miss opportunities. “The economy is moving at more than lightning speed,” he said.

He attended his first regular town council meeting in his new role on June 20. He said he’d given council members a list of questions to answer and that he was working first on gathering demographic and other data.

Audience member Andrew Tilton said he thought this arrangement with Norton was “a great fit for now for where we’re at” and that it was a good move to have access to someone with broader experience than what the town currently has. He hoped Norton could help the town build “a vision instead of reacting to a problem.”