Exeter Chamber names Rice as fulltime CEO

The Exeter Chamber of Commerce announces Tina Rice as fulltime CEO replacing her title as interim executive director

EXETER – Tina Rice has been heading up the operations of the Exeter Chamber and in her short time she must have turned some heads on the board. As of Monday, Jan. 3 Rice was able to shed her interim title as executive director and become the fulltime CEO.

“Initially hired as the office manager in January 2021, Ms. Rice has been serving as the interim executive director since August, 2021. Rice will guide the organization in its mission to help foster a vibrant business environment through collaboration, engagement and education,” an Exeter Chamber press release stated.

In previous interviews with The Sun-Gazette, Rice said that she could feel that Exeter was a special place. 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,” Rice said.

Rice has been putting her skills from her Telecom career to use ever since she started. Part of her focus is increased branding, applying best practices and reviewing positives and negatives that the chamber has done in the past. One of her most notable changes was moving the Fall Festival out of City Park and into the heart of downtown on Pine and E Street. The move was an overwhelming success with hundreds of residents in attendance who enjoyed all the different vendors set up in the street.

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.

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