By Michelle Price
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – As we wrap up the year that was, here’s a look back at the most popular storylines of 2019.
From musical success to medical crises, an industry in turmoil and the reopening of a popular restaurant, 2019 was a year chock full of business-related news across the Upper Cumberland.
1. Feds crack down on opiates and healthcare fraud
Healthcare-related issues were the leading topic of interest in 2019 with stories detailing doctors on the run, doctors and pharmacies illegally doling out opiates, and health practitioners defrauding insurance companies and Medicare.
2. Cookeville musician Jake Hoot named “The Voice”
UCBJ followed local musician Jake Hoot as he went from stepping on a stage staring at the backs of four red chairs to being announced as the winner of the internationally telecast music competition. From battle rounds to knockouts and finally to the live shows, Hoot’s following rapidly grew, with area fans gathering in watch parties as he steadily moved from the Top 10 to the Top 8 and then to the final four before being announced the winner on Dec. 17.
3. Former Jackson County judicial commissioner indicted
The former director of the Jackson County anti-dug coalition was indicted on 48 various charges relating to the misuse of program funds and related charges.
4. The struggles of the Celina Hospital
Since the sudden announcement that the Cumberland River Hospital (CRH) was closing on March 1, Clay County residents have been concerned about the state of healthcare in the small town. As the CRMC board decided to sell the hospital and its assets, anticipation continued to grow. Multiple proposals were made but ultimately fell through until Johnny Presley committed to purchase the hospital and its assets. The reopening of the hospital and its clinic are currently on hold while Presley awaits the CMS number required to operate.
5. Celina bans tiny houses
The city of Celina drew the attention of the entire region when they voted to ban “tiny houses” under 960 square feet from being built in the corporate limits of Celina.
6. Fitzgerald’s woes continue
EPA’s tightening limitations on glider kits has had a continued serious impact on Fitzgerald Glider Kits, based in Byrdstown. Between the EPA regulations and a federal excise tax that was suddenly imposed on the rebuilder, the company has had to close multiple facilities and lay off the majority of its workforce.
7. Restaurants coming and going
2019 was a turbulent year for restaurants around the U.C. The Bull & Thistle announced they were reopening and Ruby Tuesday suddenly left. The Broast changed ownership and Sunrise Dairy expanded their reach. Shoney’s confirmed their remodel was indefinitely delayed, while Texas Roadhouse and McAlister’s Deli announced plans to open locations in Cookeville. Ironically the story that received the most attention focused on the beloved owner of Ocha, Vichit “Vic” Keeradarome, retiring and passing the torch to his nephew while promising that spicy beef with noodles would still be right where it’s always been.
8. Cookeville abandons downtown wi-fi
Residents were dismayed when the city of Cookeville realized that there were continuing costs associated with the proposed free downtown wi-fi and scrapped the idea, returning the grant funds to the Appalachian Regional Commission.
9. New location for Putnam County Fairgrounds
After an exhaustive three-year search for the perfect location for a new Putnam County fairgrounds and expo center, Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter presented the commission with two good sites. The site on Tennessee Avenue near the new fifth interchange was ultimately chosen and work will begin on the site in early 2020.
10. Gov. Lee impacts rural communities
Gov. Lee wasted no time issuing his first executive order focusing on improving conditions in the rural communities and focusing its efforts on the distressed counties, directly impacting Jackson, Clay and Fentress counties in the U.C. Another of Lee’s early moves was the appointment of Jackson County native, David Gerregano, to continue as Tennessee’s Commissioner of Revenue.
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