Exeter chamber announces interim director

Tennessee native Tina Rice takes over a interim chamber of commerce executive director; hopes to contribute positive changes to businesses

EXETER – There’s a new face at the top of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce. After just a few months of on-the-job training, Tina Rice earned the confidence of her board.

Earlier this month Exeter Chamber of Commerce board president John Guinn announced they hired Rice as interim executive director. Originally from Nashville, Tenn., Rice had a 21-year business telecom career with BellSouth / AT&T. That job moved her to Birmingham, Ala. and Atlanta, Ga. Rice developed skills in customer service, process development and improvement, wholesale contracts and wholesale products.

“The entire Board and I look forward to seeing our membership grow under her leadership as we re-open the community of Exeter,” Guinn stated in a recent press release.

Like all Exeter stakeholders, Rice could feel the city was a special place. And after taking an early retirement in February 2011, she was looking for just that.

While on vacation visiting her husband’s family, Rice set her eyes on Exeter for the first time. Perusing through the farmers market Rice couldn’t help but be taken in by the city’s atmosphere.

“Exeter just felt comfortable, and the people were so friendly. I know it was a special place,” Rice said.

Just like that Rice and her husband decided this was going to be where they raise their three kids: Tripp, Mia and Emmeline. Some of the benefits of Tulare County living is that her husband’s family is from nearby Porterville. That gives her kids the chance to grow up around their aunts, uncles and cousins, but they also get the benefits of small-town living.

“They’ll have this community that is getting to know them. Whether it’s through scouting or dance or whatever their activities may be, not only are they getting to know my husband and myself, but their getting to know our children,” Rice said. “I think community is very important when you’re raising children and need support.”

It certainly takes a village and Rice has been a major part of it since joining the community. Driven by a sense of service Rice has been active serving on the boards and parent committees of Lincoln Elementary PTO, school site councils for Lincoln Elementary and Wilson Middle School, Exeter Eels and Exeter Cub Scouts and Boy Scout Troop 309.

Through those clubs Rice recognized the benefit of joining and volunteering at the chamber. In May of 2019, Tina accepted a job with the fundraising company Opportunities and helped schools, PTOs, music and drama groups around the Central Valley with facilitating their fundraisers. In January 2021, Tina received a call from Sandy Blankenship letting her know that long time Office Manager Sara Tyler would be leaving and invited Tina to apply for the job.

There were some wholesale changes happening at the chamber. Tyler was leaving because she was offered an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up, but former executive director Sandy Blankenship was on her way to retirement.

“I was asked to come in and interview to replace [Sarah], which is what I did. Then Sandy retired Two weeks later, and I’ve been on my own in this office ever since,” Rice said.

The office might be lonely, but there is no shortage of activity. Rice has been putting her skills from her Telecom career to use. Part of her focus is increased branding, applying best practices and reviewing positives and negatives that the chamber has done in the past.

“For me, it is exciting to just look at what we have done in the past? What’s worked well? What could we do better? And my goal is to meet with as many of our members as I can,” Rice said. Anything that connects members is something she wants to pursue. And discussions are already underway on what new directions the chamber should go after.

“We’re having a lot of internal discussions between myself and the board of directors, and talking about what our community members need and make a plan together,” Rice said.

One thing that has already been an important change is the chamber’s weekly newsletter. Rice has used it to key members in on what the chamber is doing, but she has turned it into an employment tool. Businesses all over the county are struggling to find labor, now businesses are reaching out to the chamber to let them know they’re hiring.

“I’m getting a lot of interaction with some of our members over that and I’ve heard back from a few members that said it worked…they were able to find somebody that way,” Rice said.

Between more connectivity among businesses, and changes to the chamber, Rice is ready to make the most out of her experience. For now she is the interim director, but if given the opportunity she would gladly take it full time.

“I’m really honored to be given this opportunity, I understand how special Exeter is, and how special it is to a lot of people. This office itself contains a lot of history. And it is an honor to be the keeper of that,” Rice said. “And I’m looking forward to making some positive contributions and helping where I can.”

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