The Cocke County Partnership Economic Development Commission meeting on Thursday was told by President Lucas Graham that recent rain has slowed work on a pad and access road into the Innovation Park on Highway 25E. He is hopeful the gravel can be put down this Fall.

The Loves Travel Center on West Highway 25/70 is still on track however Graham said construction has been pushed back till at least April 2021.

Graham also talked about “Project Orange” which is a new local opportunity. The firm had previously looked at the community, but he reported the company now is interested in the new Innovation Park.

Graham was invited to Florida to meet with the firm’s corporate team. “That meeting went very well and now we are working on negotiating some terms and what their site model will look like.” He added that, “This is an exciting project and there are lots of jobs associated with it, and we have a very good chance of landing this one.”

Several other projects are back on the drawing board after having slowed up due to the COVID pandemic.

Graham said he has applied for a state grant and he expressed his appreciation to Newport Utilities as well as Jeff-Cocke Gas Utility who were very helpful in pulling together needed information about the community for that grant application.

The Commission approved a large number of new members. Betty Ann Bewley has paid the one-year membership dues of the tenants of her downtown properties, in an effort to encourage their participation in the community through the Partnership/Chamber of Commerce.

Graham expressed his appreciation to the property owner.

“A special thank you to Betty Ann for doing that. She reached out wanting to do something special for her tenants, thinking this would be a good opportunity to have the chamber help in pushing their businesses during the COVID, which resulted in a rough year.”

The Partnership president said the move is a new one for the organization “but I am hopeful that she kinda sets a trend.”

The board was asked to consider an amendment to Graham’s employment contract, moving the $10,000 annual [performance bonus to his salary.

Member Truitt Ottinger pointed out that President Graham has not had a raise since he was hired several years ago.

“We realized when we hired Lucas, that the salary was about ‘half price’ of the former president because Lucas was inexperienced at the time. But we feel like over the past several years he has proven himself well enough to add the bonus to his salary,” Ottinger said. Alderman Steve Smith made a motion to amend the contract but the motion died for the lack of a second.

Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger expressed concern that the Partnership may not be able to afford the increased salary, and Parrottsville Mayor Dwayne Daniels suggested that Graham “fell short of meeting (his) obligations.”