The Cocke County Partnership Board and President Lucas Graham reported the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the advancement of some projects

“It has had an impact on our ongoing projects. Two of the retailers involved in Project Showrest have taken a substantial hit and so the developers are looking at other potential options.”

Graham said some of the manufacturing projects have been slowed, but two that had been postponed are again working with state economic development officials on applications.

“I’m starting to see some momentum with people getting more optimistic about what’s coming up.”

Graham said the former RGE plant in the industrial park is being sold to the Ole Smoky Distillery, and he expects the contract with Eternal Beverage will be signed this month.

Dennis Gregg of Conagra and Truitt Ottinger of Tennessee State Bank were reappointed to the board. Although Conagra plans to close its plant in January, Gregg said he expects to be in town until the firm’s warehouse closes later in 2021.

The partnership expects to receive the same contributions from both Newport and Cocke County in the new budget year. There may be decreases in chamber dues as a result of the current pandemic in the new year. Graham said a number of small businesses have been impacted by COVID-19.

The statewide chamber organization will offer Aetna medical coverage in an effort to reduce costs for members of the local chamber and their employees. The program will reduce costs for mom and pop businesses, and local insurance agencies who sell Aetna will handle the policy and provide a group discount. The board agreed to join the program.

Tourism Director Linda Lewanski said the state is developing a phased-in tourism marketing program. She and Newport Mayor Roland Dykes attended the reopening of Clingmans Dome and heard keynote speaker Second Lady Karen Pence.

Lynn Ramsey of the chamber reported the organization is continuing with its networking program by hosting virtual gatherings.

The question of offering Riverwalk concerts and the Street Festival will be dependent on the state’s timeline for reopening activities. Applications will be made available for the activities and if they must be canceled fees will be refunded.